Parent Space

I am back at school this morning again, taking Joshua in with me but I will be there for the parent coffee morning. I was busy last night baking a victoria sponge and a chocolate cake and I have made some cheese straws this morning, and another Mum is bringing some homemade sausage rolls, so there should be something for everyone. I never know who might come and so it is hard to judge how much to bake, but I do know that I have plenty of enthusiastic volunteers , both at school and my office, for any leftovers , so nothing ever goes to waste.

We have a smart new space at school to meet in, I was given a tour of it when I was in school on Wednesday. Joshua’s school has grown considerably since he joined 8 years ago and they moved into a brand new purpose-made building. Back then it was spacious and shiny new, but now 8 years on , the building is bursting at the seams. The number of pupils has grown considerably to many more than the building was designed to hold, so much so that there are now two classes off-site, to be able to offer new starters an appropriate education, when our school really should have turned them away as there was no room.

Our coffee morning has always been held in a meeting room at the far end of the school, overlooking the senior playground. But that has not been ideal as parents have had to be escorted through the school as they arrive and then back to reception if anyone needed to use the toilet facilities. With the expansion in pupil numbers, staff numbers have increased and so there has been more need for administrative staff. Those staff have been squeezed into a range of ad hoc spaces, but there was always a plan to create a space for all of the admin staff to be grouped together in one area of the school. So offices  has been created out of a wasted space under the stairs and a new meeting room has been created behind reception, which should be a lot easier for parent events. We will see how it works out today for our first coffee morning in the new space. My initial observation is that there is no running water or kettle there, and so we will be more reliant on school staff organising flasks of boiling water for us, but I am sure we can work with that. It is still a new, bare room but I was assured that it will be decorated with pupil’s artwork soon and it still needs a blind for some privacy from reception. They are hoping that parents will be able to wait for their children there when they pick them up at the end of the day too, rather than loitering in the corridor.

I am excited to christen the new meeting room with our first coffee morning in there, so I hope that many parents will come to take a look and stay a while to chat and share.


I took Joshua into school yesterday as I had the first appointment at Open Morning to see his teacher. He was happy to arrive at school and dashed off towards the entrance, barging past the teaching assistant that was waiting for him, so that he could have a quick kick of the glass doors, which amused him. Without a backward glance, he disappeared upstairs to 6th form showing me that he clearly knows his school routine, even if I had confused him by driving rather than his usual taxi. As my appointment was not until 9.30, I chatted to other parents who were also waiting to see their teachers.

When Joshua’s teacher arrived, all of the set-out tables were full and so we sat on comfy chairs instead. She told me that he had been lively all term and that he was certainly showing his sense of humour and that twinkle in his eye, while he planned his next mischievous move. The focus for his final year is to prepare Joshua as best they can to leave this safe, familiar environment.  I had a list of questions for her, mainly asking for additional experiences for him in his final year of school : I know 6th form have access to a flat where they cook  and eat together and do domestic chores, but Joshua has never been there, so I made that request as I am sure he would enjoy the change of scene. It is accessible, so she could not see why he could not attend. His timetable suggests that he will swim three times a week in the hydrotherapy pool but that has not been happening due to the staffing requirements. I explained how good it was for him and how much he enjoyed the freedom in the warm water, so she said that she would try to give him two swimming opportunities each week in the future.

A group of more able 6th formers are doing the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and they all went on  a residential last week. I asked if there could be a residential trip for the less able young people. There will be 15 of them leaving  school next summer, Joshua included, and so I asked that they have a trip away together – even if it was just one overnight stay. I have understood that Joshua has missed out on several school trips away where they have been outdoor activities – such as kayaking and rock climbing – as he would not be able to participate. But as an inclusive special school, I feel strongly that all pupils should have these social opportunities, so I hope that they will be able to make that happen in time for Joshua’s departure. That was one of the things that I loved when we had a tour of the school back in 2010, the head teacher had told us all about the residential trips that the children went on and I loved the idea that Joshua could be given such an exciting opportunity.  Yet the reality is that, in 8 years at that school, Joshua has been on one overnight stay in a forest and I would like him to ideally have another opportunity before July.

Joshua is unable to ask for opportunities that he might like to experience and he is probably unaware of the activities that his peers are undertaking; so it is my job to be his eyes, ears and voice and in this life, we do not get if we do not ask, so let’s see what happens next.

Time Marches On

I have booked today off work as I have a couple of big things to do : Firstly it is the first time that I will meet Joshua’s teacher for a proper discussion about him, his behaviour and his progress as there is an Open Morning at school. I have made a list of my questions that have occurred to me over the last few weeks about his last year at school.We are only allocated a 15 minute slot and I am the first of her class parents, so I must try not to talk too much so that she overruns all morning, but that might be quite a challenge as Joshua is one of my favourite topics to talk about and I like to know all about the times when I am apart from him.

I specifically asked for the first appointment of the day, so that I can then drive over to meet my sister as we are going to see the solicitor this afternoon to sign off Mum’s estate paperwork. It feels as though I have not seen my sister for forever,so much so that I had to check the calendar and it has been almost a month, but it felt much longer. So we have long overdue hugs and face to face catch ups, as they are always better than telephone calls. But after that famine, it is a feast as I will see her again at the weekend for my niece’s birthday party, so that is a bonus. My mobile phone reminded me of her birthday party last year yesterday, as it sent me photos of our smiling mum in my sister’s conservatory. So it will feel strange that she is not there this weekend as she always made the effort to get together for her grandchildren’s birthdays. I imagine that these family parties, with her empty seat, will get easier as time passes, but for now , each one is a milestone and we have Christmas to face yet, when our festive spirit will be seriously challenged.

When a loved one dies, or another traumatic event such as days spent in a special care baby unit, when you emerge out of the other side, it always feels so strange that the rest of the world is carrying on regardless, they have not been impacted by the same blow as you and their life seems to be continuing on normally. That is a shocking revelation at first: But then you realise , especially if you spend a lot of time around hospitals, that families are experiencing bad health news and loss every day of the week and that you are not the only one at all who has felt that isolation at all. In fact it can be a bonding experience, if people share their experiences of grief or there are support groups for families who’s lives have been devastated by a particular diagnosis , prognosis or condition and strength and support can be found there.

But for now, we just do the best that we can everyday ; I try to be kind to people, as we really have no idea of the  worries and concerns that they are facing, and so a smile ,kind word or sweet treat might be just the thing to improve their day and distract them, if only momentarily.

School Days

This week social media has been full of photographs of smartly dressed children going off to their first day at nursery, primary school or ‘big school’. The parents are proud, afraid or in disbelief at where the time has flown to. I did not take a picture of happy Joshua , kicking the gate, eager to get into the taxi but I was one of the ‘ where has the time gone’ parents.Yesterday marked the start of the final year of Joshua’s school career; he has been going to school for 14 years, which is over three quarters of his life, and we still do not have a plan for what will take its place this time next year

I am envious of those just starting out on their school journey as it feels a safe, friendly, protected environment compared to the unknown world of adult daycare. In an ideal world, Joshua should be leaving 6th form to go off to university, taking a giant step in independence and the start of his career path. But instead, we are going to start to look for an adult equivalent of school, where he can mix with people of his same age, do interesting activities to amuse him and to have a regular routine that will get him out of the house and meeting other people. I have a list of local providers and my first task is to ascertain who can handle his epilepsy, as some may not have the training or confidence in administering his rescue medication. Then I will visit the remaining providers on the list, meet the staff, observe the facilities and current users and learn more about what activities they can offer. Some pupils from Joshua’s school are able enough  to complete further education or to undertake some supervised employment, but Joshua will not be seeking either of these opportunities. I will continue to look for what I have always said are my priorities for him : to be happy and safe, and learning something along the way would be a bonus.

So I do not take Joshua’s school days for granted, but I appreciate the care and fun that he has had at his current special school, where he has been for 8 years now. Apparently he gave his teaching assistant a big hug when he saw her yesterday morning, I knew he would be pleased to see her again. Joshua does not realise that this routine will end next July, he is oblivious to the impending change. Whereas I am very focused on it and will be aware that I will be attending the last ever school harvest next month – no doubt it will make me cry like my first one there did!- and the final Christmas performance, so I am going to try to attend everything that I can, to make the most of these precious school days. They say that your school days are the best of your life and I certainly loved my time at school, and I wonder if that will be true for Joshua? Who knows what the future brings? But on the whole, I would say that he has enjoyed his school days at this particular school and I am so pleased that these days, he is awake and alert enough to make his presence felt.

Let them eat cake

I took Joshua into school yesterday as I was having my second ‘school day’ of the week. We arrived with our music blaring out and the windows down, as it was sunny morning, so Joshua was happy. He rushed upstairs without a backwards glance, keen to get on with his busy school day. I was fulfilling my role as school governor in the morning, monitoring how their new reading programme was being implemented across the school ,so I went in a range of Junior classes to observe and to speak to the staff. It was an interesting and fun morning, that flew by.

I then met my sister for lunch and then we both came back to school for my afternoon Mental Health session with parents. I had chosen a loose theme of grief/loss to  discuss, as it seemed relevant at this point in time. There were just seven of us in total, which was a perfect number for everyone to have a say and for people to show their more vulnerable sides with confidence too. I was pleased with how the discussion went and of course we had general chat over cake too, so it was not all doom and gloom. I love how ,when I set these  groups up years ago, I thought that I was offering support to other parents. But more recently, they have been supporting me with friendship, rather than just being the other way around. That means, for me,  that the group works well as it is not just a one way street, which it probably was at the beginning. I was amused at their confidence in my ability to provide home-baked goodies, so much so that some did not have any lunch, just to leave room for my baking.

These groups do not happen overnight, it takes time for people to feel comfortable and confident. I really hope that they will be my legacy at school once Joshua leaves next year and that they will continue to grow from strength to strength.  We will have a whole new crop of new parents from September and hopefully some of them will join us. I think that the baking was the initial incentive for parents to come along, but now I think it is the support that brings them along, hopefully the home-baking is just a bonus and that being the case,  it should continue on after my time. Alternatively, I have a year to hand over some of my favourite recipes and to encourage a culture of home-baking to anyone who was willing to learn. Perhaps next year we could meet in the cookery room, create and then eat what has been made as part of our transition?

School Days

I have swapped my day off this week and so I am not in work today, but instead, in my Parent Governor capacity, I will be in school all day. There are teaching posts that we are interviewing for and I am one on the panel of four who will be asking questions and assessing the candidates. I have not done it for some years now but I recall that I have enjoyed it when I have been involved and that I found it to be an emotional experience. I have a different perspective to the other members of the panel, as I am the only one who has a child with Special Needs at the school and I feel that will give me a unique perspective. I will be looking to see if each candidate is someone that I would like to have teaching Joshua, whereas the Head and HR will be presumably looking more at their employment record and their future potential. I will want them to demonstrate how they would engage my cheeky, lively son who has a very short attention span.

Every candidate, and there are 8 of them, will have to give a lesson which will be observed by the assistant head before their interview, and then we will ask the same questions of everyone so that we can compare the responses. I know how anxious the candidates will be as they are looking for permanent contracts in school and so I will try my best to put them at their ease, so that they can perform at their best. As I have worked for the same company for 29 years, I have not had much experience of being interviewed, in fact I have had more experience being the interviewer. We will have an individual rating system for how well each question is answered , so that the panel then compares overall scores. In the main, when I have been involved before, our ratings have been consistent, which gives reassurance, but on occasions we have had to speak up for a particular candidate and give our reasons for our support.

So today I am taking Joshua into school with me, which I always enjoy, and I will bring him home at the end of the day too. I have already arranged that he goes into after school club until we are finished our debate. Lets see what today brings….

Turning a Negative into a Positive

Yesterday was our Parent First Aid training at school, which came about after Joshua’s seizure in the bath incident in January when we had to call an ambulance. Once we were home from hospital and I began to analyse my response to his accident at home, I was very aware that I had no formal first aid training and so I asked his school to lay it on for other parents like myself. They asked me to make a call to the training company that they use and to find out what they could offer as a half day course, which I did. I reported back to the Assistant Head who is responsible for safeguarding and training at school, and he booked the course all on the same day that I made the request.

I then had to hope that I was not the only parent who recognised their need for First Aid training, and I promoted the opportunity on our parent social media and was overwhelmed by the response that I received, by the level of interest. After February Half term, school sent out a letter offering the training on a first come , first served basis. I was worried that the level of hypothetical interest might dwindle once a real time and day was offered, but I needn’t have worried, as twelve other Mums turned up for the training yesterday afternoon. The trainer began by finding out about our children, our experience of emergencies at home and about the level of first aid knowledge that we had already. I was the only one who had been on a three day First Aid at Work course during the same week, but some had no formal training and others were looking for a refresher on some old training.

The trainer was excellent, she was informative, knowledgeable, but she went at a good pace and encouraged us all to try out the practical techniques of CPR, placing each other in  the recovery position, abdominal thrusts and bandaging. She answered everyone’s questions without making anyone feel silly for asking and she took account of  some of her audience’s blood phobia, fear of their children choking and their reluctance to practice with an audience. We were all shown a defibrillator and how it works which I thought was invaluable, as I had heard that you could not hurt someone by using one but I had not appreciated until this week, how it takes you through the steps and will not shock a patient if it is not necessary or helpful. I , for one, would be less afraid now of reaching for an AED if a situation demanded it.

While there was some duplication with what I had learned earlier in the week, yesterday had more of a child and baby focus, rather than adult colleagues, and she also related her course work to children with special needs, who may be non-verbal or wheelchair-bound too. I found that the three hours went really quickly, due to the balance of listening and practical exercises too. We finished at the end of the school day so that many had to dash off to collect their children and some joked that they wanted a badge or a certificate to prove that they had undertaken this training, as they were pleased with what they had achieved. I have since been thanked by several of the Mums for having the idea and for organising the course. We all, of course, hope never to need these skills, but at least now, if we are faced with an emergency on our own, at home, we will know what to do while we wait for the paramedics to arrive. It is clear that time is of the essence and so we might now be equipped to take some simple steps to make our children, or even a random member of the public, more comfortable or even save their life.

Festive Fundraising Over

The school fundraiser was a big success yesterday and I was delighted to have been involved. When I arrived at school, already each classroom had a table outside displaying their festive treats that they had created : Christmas buns, cards, candles, elves, calendars…there was no end to the festive merchandise and it was all beautifully displayed too – I was stunned by the classes’ creativity. I walked around to the dining hall where the cake bake stall was set up but lay pretty empty with just two contributions on it. I added my own baking and I asked some of the classes if I could add their buns and mince pies to my table, rather than filling their class displays. By the time parents started to arrive, the cake bake stall was fully stocked and it virtually was all sold by 11am.

Two 6th formers appeared to help out and we had one with us, who offered to make hot drinks for the visitors, which was a great help. He earned his keep as it was busy at times and he took his reward in yule log! The other 6th former manned the ‘cinema’, giving out tickets and selling popcorn to see a short school film that had been created. I sneaked a peek at the film at 11am during a lull and it was so brilliant that we asked to see it twice. It featured pupils and staff set to music and it showed school off at its best, as they acted out friendship and helping one another – of course it made me cry.

Joshua appeared early on and I gave him £5 to spend on the stalls and he had a good look around, before coming back to me with his purchases in exchange for a hug and some lemon drizzle cake.

It was not just parents and classes who came to the fundraiser, but we had visitors from both staff and School Councils from some of the other schools in our Trust, who wanted to look around our school, so it was a showpiece event too. I am sure that they were impressed by what they saw, as everyone threw themselves into the morning’s festivities. I believe that around £400 was raised for school funds too, which was a great morning’s work and there were lots of smiling faces too. So now on Black Friday, Christmas really got underway at school.

I Second that Emotion

I expect today to be an emotional day for three main reasons : firstly, this morning will be the last time that I will see Joshua until Monday evening and that is a really long time without seeing or being with him. This is his short breaks/respite weekend and we are going away on a trip overseas tonight, so I have been busy packing both for his weekend away, buying pet food in bulk to leave behind and our packing – although ours is still incomplete and can be finished off this afternoon before we catch our ferry. I have been talking about Joshua’s weekend away with him but I am never sure if he understands, but he does recognise his overnight bag that always goes with him and he seriously studied me packing it last night on his bed. I am optimistic that I will receive timely text updates throughout his weekend, which will keep me updated , preventing me from worrying and wondering.

Secondly, I am having my first ever mammogram this afternoon and I am not really sure what to expect, other than discomfort. So that will be a new procedure in my life, now that I have reached that age in my life when the risk of breast cancer is highest. It has coincided with a diagnosis for an important lady in my life, as she begins her chemotherapy next week and I wish her well and a speedy recovery.

Thirdly, this morning is the harvest festival at Joshua’s school and I have always loved this celebration. I recall the first one that I went to back in 2011, back then the whole school walked down to the local parish church, which was a feat in itself. I sat at the back of the church and was overwhelmed by the singing, signing, joyand care in the church and I cried throughout it. Lots of concerned staff stoppped me on the way out to check that I was OK and I sobbed that I “loved it” through my uncontrollable tears. I am made of stronger stuff 7 years later, as I have seen several more school performances like that since, and although I may shed a tear or two at something poignant, I am ready and armed with tissues.


The Morning After

This is the first early morning for a week when I have not come downstairs and put my oven and my apron on!The Macmillan Coffee Morning at school could not have gone better …..

I arrived at school at 8.30 with a car boot full of homemade goodies – coffee cake, parkin, lemon drizzle, key lime pie, flapjack, cheese straws, victoria sponge, apple cake etc. There was so much that it took me two trips from the car to the dining hall where we were holding the event. I began to blow up balloons, lay out table clothes and put bunting up around the walls. Staff arrived to either donate a creation or to eye up what they planned to buy later, as I set out the cake on the tables. Then very soon, parents, once they had dropped off their children, began to arrive. From 9am until 11.30 it was pretty full on, with serving cake, chatting to guests, making hot drinks and keeping track of things. Two 6th formers were volunteered to help – not my son thankfully as he was creating chaos in the short while he was there during the set up stage! One of them was taking photographs for the website and the other took over the tea and coffee-making.

Each class had made their own contribution – buns and cake – and they each came to the dining hall with their donation, throughout the morning, and they amused me by mainly buying back what they had been involved in making! There was real pride in an enormous ‘rainbow cake’ for instance and that class were the main takers of it too. The Parents were keen to know what their child had made and to buy a slice of it in support. The parents sat at tables like in a cafe, some coming back for seconds, and the cardboard collection box that Macmillan supply, grew heavier and heavier.

I do not know yet how much money we collected, but I expect it to be in the region of £300 as I was counting it up and I had got to £240-something when was interrupted and I lost count , so I handed it into the office to be counted. In addition to that, I took some cake to the reception of the adjoining school and to my own offices and they donated a further £35. No doubt we will know the grand total next week!

Already though I would consider it to be a roaring success; not just due to the cash raised for a brilliant charity, but also for the fact that it brought people together : it united pupils, parents and staff in a common cause and of course, a love of cake really helped! There was a real buzz about the dining hall yesterday morning and I am not sure that it could have gone any better.