What Kind Of A World Do We Really Want?

As the news once again revolves around the election, and the politicians state their cases, I cannot help but think they are all missing the point.

They argue about specific policies, call each other names and tell us what the country needs.

But as I sit and listen, I’m not really sure that any of them care about creating the type of world I want to live in.

So if any of them are listening, this is what I want.

I want to live in a country that promotes tolerance and celebrates difference. A world where individual needs are met and families are given the help they need.

I want to live in a country where education matters. For everyone. Not just those that can.

I want to live in a country where families have real choices, not just choices on paper. Where there are schools that genuinely meet the needs of those attending them. Yes even those with additional needs.

I want to live in a country where children do not sit on waiting lists for years, waiting for diagnoses. Diagnoses they need to access the support they need to help them to achieve.

I want to live in a country where we care about all of our citizens, where class and ability do not define the choices that are given. Where equality for all is a reality not a dream.

I want to live in a country where there are toilets that everyone can use. It should be a right, not a luxury.

I want to live in a country where children who need speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy get it as a right, not because their parents have fought for it.

I want to live in country where the needs of my children are recognised, respected and recognised. A country where they are wanted. A country where we as a family are wanted.

I want to live in a country where these issues are spoken about. A country where they matter.

I don’t want to listen to politicians arguing.

I don’t want to hear what the other side are doing wrong.

But I do want to hear what will be different.

I want to know who cares about everyone. Not just about gaining votes.

After all, the kind of world we live in matters to us all.

We Cannot Give In To Fear. The Londoners Certainly Haven’t.

I am by my own admission not London’s biggest fan. The big city lights hold very little draw, and I’m always more than a little spooked by the lines of unsmiling faces staring at books or phones on the tube.

To an outsider looking in, it lacks humanity.

And with my Country Mouse shoes on, I am very definitely an outsider.

In the aftermath of the terror attacks, I felt more than a little wary about our trips down, both last week and this to the hospital with the little man. I was however wrong.

London this time round was a kinder place.

Somehow, some way, a subtle change seems to have been brought about. Almost as if people have banded together and started looking for the kindness in the world.

There is a steely determination, not to give in to fear.

And instead to look for hope.

On our rare (usually medically induced) visits to London, we joke that Number Two has duties to complete. Duties that consist mainly, of how many people he can make smile. There is you see something about being smiled at by a baby that makes it very hard, for even the most hard hearted of us to resist.

On previous trips, we have counted one smile per tube trip (usually from the poor unsuspecting soul who sits next to or directly opposite us) as a win. It’s our little game, a way of belonging a little in an alien world.

But these latest visits have been different, the smiles a little less hard won, the people a little happier to be engaged. In fact, on one particularly enjoyable trip, most of the carriage were playing along -laughing, smiling, waving and clapping with Number Two. Excited to interact with two tired strangers.

Terrorism and fear have not won. Quite the opposite in fact.

It could so easily have gone the other way. People could have gone inside themselves, become more absorbed in their telephones, their books, their magazines.

But they haven’t.

Instead they are looking for the good in the world. For hope. For love.

Fear has lost. Spectacularly so.

We cannot give in to fear. The Londoners certainly haven’t.

I Never Think Why Me…. But I Do Think Why My Children

If, when children are allocated down to their parents some Devine being looks on filling out a checklist for who can match their needs. I am not surprised that he decided to give me my children.

I am proud that he did.

Anyone who knows me knows that even before my children SEND was my thing. I helped at youth clubs, advocated for children and then became a teacher. As a teacher I fought tooth and nail for ‘my children’ to get what they needed. In many ways it became my trademark.

It was the training I needed for parenting my real children.

And hey let’s face it, I am much more suited to fighting the education system and battling the medical profession than I would be to dealing with drunk teenagers (though nothing is to say that at some point I will not also be blessed with that particular challenge).

I do however wonder why he chose my children.

I am strong enough to take whatever is thrown at me. But why should they?

As I sit here after another day, of Number Two’s food shredding and Number One’s supply teacher experiences. I cannot help but wonder why they were chosen. What did they do to deserve their lives being more difficult than other children of their age.

Why could my children have not had it easy?

As I watch other children effortlessly navigate friendships, joke with their peers and know where the right line is with adults; I hate that my daughter has to try so hard. I am unbelievably proud of who she is. She astounds me every day with how far she has come. But I wish that she could live without the pressures that are on her shoulders.

At nine she knows she is different from her friends. She is beginning to realise that socially she doesn’t always ‘get it’. She’s recently started a blog of her own and in it she talks of how annoying it can be to lack the ability to understand social nuances:

“I misunderstand my parents quite a lot, (and my friends too,) which makes things very hard for me.(and everyone else for that matter.) For example, I often get told by my parents not to shout at them, yet I don’t mean to, I didn’t even know I’m doing it! It happens the other way round too, when they talk to me, I think they are shouting at me, so I get upset, because I haven’t done anything wrong, but really, they’re only talking to me, not shouting.” (Number One)

Reading her post, broke my heart. Not because she is different. In the words famously used by Temple Grandin she is very definitely ‘different not less’, but because she cares so much. Relationships matter to her. A lot. Yet she will never sail through them.

She is the joy of my life. Yet I know so often, she is not the joy of her own. I wish that were not the case.

What did she do, to deserve a life more difficult, more complex, more out of her control?

As I watch other babies enjoying their food, eating it effortlessly, knowing how to swallow. My heart breaks in two for the tiny boy sat before me. Chewing his food beautifully into bite sized pieces before letting it roll out of his mouth. Every swallow an achievement, a silent rejoice.

He loves food. You can see his eyes light up as something new arrives on the table. He is excited to try it. Wants it.

But somehow, it doesn’t happen. And on the rare occasions it does, he pays for it with pain. At night he screams, squirms, and arches. His payment his real.

He is such a little boy. My baby. I would do anything to take his pain. Yet instead I submit him to more, needles, procedures and next an anaesthetic. He needs it, but he doesn’t deserve it. He deserves to just be a baby, doing what babies do.

Yet he soldiers on. Brave through it all. Smiling his smile. Roaring like a lion.

I am proud to be the mother of my children. I will be forever grateful they were given to me. But for them I wonder why and wish for more.

Perhaps some of you understand?

What About When The Trust Breaks Down?

Over the years I’ve had many parents cross my classroom door.

They have been let down, lied to, failed. Failed by a system but also failed by individuals.

When they cross my door, they are hostile. They are distrustful. They are afraid.

Those parents expect me to be the same as others they’ve come across before. We start our relationship not from a position of trust, not even from one of neutrality.

They do not see me. They see only a teacher. One of many. A replica of those who have failed.

And that is fair.

I do not blame them.

It is easy to look to the government, to blame funding cuts, rising pressures, staff disaffection.

But that is not the whole story.

We are individuals, each with our own conscience. Despite these things we can make a difference. We can give the humanity which is so often missing in the world.

There are people who do. I hope I am one.

There are people who work through their lunch hours, who call parents in their own time, who treat the children they teach in the way they would want their own children to be treated.

There are teachers who care. Perhaps more than they should. Or at least that’s what some would say.

There are people who do. I hope I am one.

But today. Today I am a mum.

Today I am the distrustful one. The one who has been failed by a system.

The one fighting for her child.

Today it is not education but health. A string of doctors, one after another.

All nice. All professional.

But each only seen once.

There is no relationship. No trust. Nowhere to turn.

Things are forgotten and promises are broken. The humanity is missing.

My baby is poorly and I am frightened.

And today when we see yet another stranger in yet another room, I know I will be hostile. And I know that isn’t fair.

But the trust is broken.

And unlike in my other world, my teacher world, this time it is not in my power to fix.

The Truth About Pushy Parents

After the publication of yesterday’s articles in the guardian and the independent regarding pushy parents wanting a diagnosis of SEND for their children, I have become increasingly annoyed.

Because the truth is parents of children with SEND need to be pushy.

In fifteen years of teaching I can honestly say that I have never met a parent who wants their child to have SEND. However, I have seen countless parents at breaking point. Parents who have spent countless hours fighting for services their child needs access to. And parents whose children have been refused diagnosis because of the lack of knowledge of the professionals working with them.

The reality is that most mainstream teachers have no training in working with children with SEND. They have no knowledge of diagnostic criteria. And funding cuts mean they have very little access to specialist services.

Behaviour is all too often blamed because teachers do not have an understanding of the root causes.

Do middle class children fare better in the system than those from less well off backgrounds? Absolutely. Their parents learn how to work the system. They learn that in order to get what their child needs they need to shout loudly in the right ears. And they are less likely to be blamed as the root cause of the difficulties their child is causing.

There are limited resources. Too few specialist places and not enough money to go round. I have sat in meetings with LEA budget holders and been told frankly that there is not enough money in the pot to provide the education that SEND children in the authority need.

This is not the fault of pushy parents. It is the fault of cuts to an already stretched budget.

Parents do not want to be pushy. They should not need to be pushy. The education children need to be successful should be a right for all. Services should be given on the basis of need. Children whose parents do not understand the system should not be sacrificed.

But that is not the fault of the parents of the children who access them. It is the fault of the system.

Change is needed. And it is needed now.

More resources are needed urgently. More training for all teachers in SEND needs to be made compulsory. But more than that parents need to be listened to – not because authorities are afraid of complaints but because they are the ones who know their children best.

Because education matters for all children.

There should not be children entering secondary school who have not been taught to read and write. There should not be children spending years out of school because of the lack of an appropriate placement.

We should not be complaining that parents are pushing to get the education their child needs, we should be asking why they need to.

After all, if your child needed help, what would you do?