Friday, 7 February 2014

Could do better - see me!

Like most people there were some subjects at school I really enjoyed and others I couldn't really get on with. It was those subjects where I would get a red ink message from the teacher "Could have done better - see me!" followed by a circled C- and a huff of discontentment as I opened my exercise book, stared out the window and dreamed I was Steve Coppell playing for Manchester United.

Being a parent of three adult children I wonder what my mark would be for the past 24 years if I was being graded. I'd like to think I'd got an A (sorry kids we didn't do A* when I was at school - if you were the best you got an A and possibly some team points if you were lucky!)

However, when it comes to Emily I've a feeling I'm getting a bit of that old red ink and a "could have done better" in my exercise book again. Our local authority haven't had a particularly long and illustrious history of including and supporting children with Down's syndrome through mainstream education. And before I go any further let me say this mainstream education is NOT necessarily the best way to go as you'll read.

This is going to have to be a series but let me give an overview today. Emily went through our local primary school, along with her siblings. Generally this was great. She had some amazing teachers and she had Mrs Davies - an absolute gem of a Teaching Assistant - that's what we called them back then in the 90's - there's probably a new name for them by now - Child-centred Information Distribution Operative? Perhaps not but we seem to have wrapped teaching up in red tape over the years instead of letting teachers just get on and teach.

Having said that Mrs Davies was possibly a better teacher than some of those with degrees but then we should all be teachers shouldn't we? Passing on our knowledge and information to educate others. I know Emily is a very good teacher and she doesn't even have to try. She just lives her life in High Definition and in glorious technicolour. I can't help but learn from her and wonder how much poorer and less educated I would be if Emily had not been born. Well done Emily - A - 5 team points!

That's not to say it was easy. School had never had a child with Down's syndrome before. We were all learning on the run. Emily literally learned on the run when she escaped and made her way home on her own in the middle of the school day aged 6! That was an E for the school, detention - and a very big SEE US!!!! But I've got to say - Well Done Emily - A - 5 team points! It's scary but it's a cracking achievement at that age!

Transition to secondary school - what to do? The local comprehensive had never had a child with Down's syndrome before. In fact only 2 schools in the whole borough had received a child into secondary school and they were only a year older than Emily. Guinea pig time again. Pioneer time again. Tear your hair out time again! I was determined Emily wasn't going to go to special school - she's MY child after all so her disability can't be that bad right? Pride and prejudice. Well we explored the special school nearby. I wanted to hate it. I loved it. Dilemma. What to do? All the expertise was in the special school but everyone was shouting mainstream is the way to go.

We chose mainstream. C-

Five years later I probably looked 10 years older. Emily managed to attain two GCSE's. Well done Emily. Was it worth it? I'm still working that out. Like I said, it's going to take a few posts to tease out the full story. However, to complete the overview, when Emily reached 16 and left secondary education she went to our local special school for 3 years - those were the BEST years of Emily's education, for her and for us. The expertise we had so longed for during the previous years was alive and well and living in the form of some of the most wonderful, caring, compassionate and amazing teachers and volunteers.

With the greatest of respect to qualified teachers everywhere, you don't need a degree to be a teacher, you need a heart, you need passion, you need the spirit within that says I'm going to do my best for this child and I refuse to give anything but my best. THAT'S your teaching qualification right there. And thankfully there are some excellent teachers who can add this qualification to their degree. My fear is that these teachers are being driven from the classroom by all the politics that goes with teaching, league tables, results, etc, etc, etc. Teachers just want to teach. That's what they do. They can't help it.

So to those teachers - Thank You - Well Done - A - 5 team points.

We made the best decision we could based on the evidence we had at the time. But as I look back at my younger self I'd say - "Could have done better - see me!"

Emily with her amazing teachers Debbie Stacey & Ann Davies


  1. Reminds me of the very educational discussion we had in our kitchen which definitely gave me food for thought. You have done an amazing job, your family are wonderful. And if you can give pointers to those following your path we are all benefitting from those areas you have spent time working on. Thank you all

    1. Bless you Hayley. Thanks for your encouragement. Wish we lived closer to have longer to chat x

  2. Wow! Have I had THAT very same discussion with myself! I constantly tell anyone who will listen that I believe wholeheartedly in the theory of inclusion - but we're not there yet! I also feel like my son was a "guinea pig" in a system that wasn't ready - with teachers that didn't really want him there. We went back to special ed. for the last 5 or 6 years - where he was safe and welcomed. It's so nice to hear someone else say they had a similar experience! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Stephanie. I think I could call this series "We're not there yet". The good news is, we're closer than when we started. Thanks for your comments :)

  3. Yeah- I bowed out of the inclusion fight when Marcus was only 5. We sent him to a specialized private school and Thank God. Not to say I don't think back and wish I had done more. Cause I'm still wondering when I will give him all of the time/education I think I should...
    "We're not there yet" is sooooo true. And actually the best idea of all - let's keep teaching and learning, eh?