We had to say goodbye

I appear to be developing a habit of writing early morning blogs but, on this first day of a new year, I feel the need to dwell on some endings that are keeping me from sleep.

On the last day of term, before this Christmas break, a number of children passed through our doors for the final time as they were returning to their mainstream schools. They had been with us on respite since September and it was time for them to leave. Now you may be wondering why they stayed for such a short time….what miracles had we wrought to change their behaviour so quickly? Sadly, the answer was, we hadn’t! The reason for them going can be summed up in two words….permanent exclusions.

Our statutory duty lies with perm exes and they keep on coming….we had a flurry of four in one week! We had agreed in the summer term to take a number of dual rolled children via our admissions panel who presented with some challenging behaviours; these were children we were working with out in school who we felt needed placement. In some cases the schools could have opted for exclusion but they didn’t ….they hoped that in time the children would be able to return to them. However the understanding was if we got more permanent exclusions then the places would have to go. And that is exactly what happened.

I cannot adequately describe the frustration of knowing you are setting up children to fail. There were lots of tears on that last day. One little boy, very quirky and very special in all senses of the word, had really thrived in our small setting, but was now expected to go back to a large class in a school which had let him down over the years; he desperately needs an EHC Plan as he may well be destined for specialist provision. We could see, amidst the hurly burly of our Christmas production and fair, his old behaviours, linked to undiagnosed autism, starting to show and we fear for him. Three boys, very anxious, with linked anger issues, are returning more or less the same as they came to us. Two little girls, one who will hopefully manage as she is now on ADHD meds, are also going back to large cohorts which they will be lucky to survive in. They need to stay with us but the system dictates otherwise…..it is so, so wrong.

We have managed to hang on to a couple but only for now…..one boy who is now on meds needs a new school and the other needs to stay with us; out of all of them his case is the most dire. One little boy with complex needs now has a special school place so hopefully will move on soon to where he needs to be. It truly is scandalous that this child ever had to come to a PRU but we live in a world where such scandals are becoming commonplace.

So what of the future for these poor children? I hope they can survive back out there, but I suspect some are heading for permanent exclusion. Now comes the sting in the tail…..they won’t be returning to us as we are full! We have done our statutory duty and it will be someone else’s problem. The PRU closures of recent times will come back to haunt the authority but all the handwringing in the world will not compensate for the ruined lives and misery to come. Yes, a new mainstream school can be forced to take an excludee but how is that going to work? How many permanent exclusions will these children have on their records? Who will complete the work needed to sort out underlying SEN and get them the right help? Or support them with mental health needs? Fortunately for this group I have frantically worked with schools to get an EHC Plan up and running so at least they will have that safety net, but others in the future won’t be so lucky.

It is with a heavy heart that I conclude my first blog of the new year. On a personal level I feel elated and up for a new challenge this year but at the same time I am depressed by a broken system which lets down our little ‘outsiders’. And there are five words which are disturbing my dreams right now.

We had to say goodbye.


13 thoughts on “We had to say goodbye

  1. That it is really hard. Those poor kids have a lot going against them, how can such a system exist. Having children placed in the wrong setting is so damaging for everyone including the pupils in the class he is returning to. A child came to my class this year and at 10 he had finally received a diagnosis and everyday I work him I wonder again and again how could he have possibly been overlooked for so long? Then I try to do the best for him knowing so much time has been lost. System is truly broken and more and more children are slipping through.

  2. I don’t mind saying that I shed a few tears reading this. As an organisation we battle every day to save children from the threat of this institutional neglect. If I have one wish for 2016 it is that those with the knowledge and influence to prove these outrageous crimes against the most vulnerable in society, join forces and do whatever we can to force our government to see the long damage they are causing to the future of our people. xxx

  3. As a mainstream teacher, unfortunately, I had very little to do with the PRU, even when children from my class were sent there. It was a miracle to get a short behaviour report from the corresponding teacher but this is not pointing the finger as they would be as busy as I, if not even more exhausted. However, there is a layer of bureaucracy between us and I wonder why we don’t work more closely together.

    The undiagnosed autism is something that I am very concerned about. Particularly as there is still a tendency to assume that if someone is not mimicking Dustin Hoffman from Rainman, they can’t possibly be autistic. This is also a concern for many girls.

    I feel for you – it must be horrible to let them leave knowing that they will simply be excluded again. You can help but you are stretched beyond breaking point and so have to let them go. My experience is only in primary schools so I can’t say how it works in secondary. By the time they go to the PRU, the school is at breaking point.

    My question to you then is how do we avoid excluding such huge numbers in the first place? Should we bow to the inevitable here and encourage good specialist schools that are academies or free schools to expand? Because none of the LEAs will be able to open a new school for the next 5 and potentially 10 years.

    Also, in my experience, there are children who simply can not cope in mainstream, how long do we try? Because the longer we leave it, the more negative the child’s experience of school is anyway. The more likely they are to have negative interactions with other children, members of staff, etc. We need a realistic cut-off point that gives the child a chance BUT we don’t end up with a child with escalating behaviours being permanently excluded x number of years down the line. On top of whatever is the problem, they then have to deal with all the negative experiences at school. Ultimately most children are kind and understanding but they are children, what seems to be forgotten sometimes is that they will keep away from a violent, unpredictable child and also feel negatively towards a child who is abusive to the teacher as it leaves them feeling unsafe and unhappy. I have given talks a million times but you know a class that has seen and heard it for 4 years since starting primary school aren’t really listening anymore. They’ve reached their own limit.

    What I would say is that sweeping behaviour under the carpet or blaming teachers is not working in mainstream. We need robust systems that help and support from the beginning. We also need to have more powers to hold parents to account on this but let’s face it social services are stretched themselves. But too many children, who could in other circumstances behave are not doing so due to poor behaviour management at home and school. Then they really are completely out of control. I’m reminded of one child whose father decided to take him in for a week to sort out his behaviour. The change in the child was unbelievable – clean clothes, came to school having had breakfast, a proper bedtime. If this could have continued, he would have changed but alas the mother refused long term. It is these cases that I find the most frustrating because setting and maintaining boundaries is not cruel. Smaller consequences delivered consistently are better than larger ones inconsistently, which only mirrors the problems at home.

    Sorry this has turned into an essay. I have found this very enlightening as I admit I know little about the workings of PRU’s or the teachers in them.

  4. Paz Ferreira-Pike says:

    A touching blog that just makes me mad with the deep chasm between lip service and practice from this corrupt government and the reality of real life outcomes. They say the seeds sown today will be the crop we enjoy tomorrow. With the blindness and short term thinking of UK Plc, not caring for these lovely children will cost them (and society) more in the future. It is scandalous to deliberately (and naively) run this broken system and not to listen to those that know what improvements are required. For 2016, all voices against this system should come together as one to shine a light on the reality. Lets make this happen!

  5. It’s both comforting and tragic to know that this is really not a unique situation and many are experiencing it. The system is not fit for purpose. It is denying the mental health and emotional needs of many children resulting in awful consequences. The most common reaction appears to be blaming the parents in one sense or another – Munchausen’s is the favourite and if the authorities can pounce on any strain or discord in the home then this will be the cause of everything, end of story. What worries me is that to carry out these policies indicate a great lack of moral conscience and compassion in some teachers, head teachers and other professionals. I can’t work out which ones are deliberately ignorant, truly stupid or just plain wicked.

  6. My previous comment hasn’t appeared so please delete this if it becomes duplicated. I wanted to say that it’s both comforting and tragic that more and more people are recognising this huge gap in serving our vulnerable children with an appropriate education.
    Many professionals appear to squarely blame and leave responsibility with parents – Munchausen’s is the most common old chestnut despite the existence of it being rather shaky and at the least, rare. And if they can pounce on any family strain or discord they will do so with alacrity. I can’t work out which of them are deliberately ignorant, lack intelligence and insight or just plain wicked. To summarise, I find the lack of compassion and wish to help in real terms appalling. Thanks for a great article.

    • There is indeed a gap and yes parents are often blamed….this is so unhelpful because it doesn’t solve anything nor does it help the child. And if one more CAMHS person tells me a child has no mental health problems, it’s just behaviour, I think I will scream! Are they wanting a child to succeed in really hurting themselves before they concede there might be a problem??

  7. Leigh says:

    Your blog and Evelyn’s comment put me in mind of a recent post by The Quirky Teacher when she put in writing my thoughts about how the present systems of inclusion aren’t the solution for all.

    I agree if 2016 could be the year that SEND support plans and EHCPs really deliver quality education experiences for our vulnerable children, rather than making them fit a ‘cheap ( but poor) mainstream model of one-size-squeezes all’ it will be an amazing year.

    Thank goodness we have people like you, to at least provide respite for these children and, who are brave enough to stick their heads above the parapet.

  8. Kev Murphy says:

    Simply tragic story that is being related all over the country, Last year I was a governor at a KD 2 PRU and we dispaired at the containing revolving door of little children conning to us. The LA had no idea about what to do and no real heart to challenge the schools that kept excluding such young children. The system is well and truly broken but no one in power seems to have the answer, as for Ofsted. For another day

  9. Teresa McMahon says:

    I am so touched by all these responses. I also work in a PRU/Education Support Centre. The same issues apply to all our young people who need nurturing and support along with their families. The revolving door is becoming ‘stuck’ and if you are truly lucky to have a place at a our school you really are a very lucky pupil.
    The mental health needs and the expectations for young people are immense and all find their journey incredibly difficult. Sometimes lacking social skills, sometimes verbal skills, some anger issues and the list goes on and on and on. A lot of our pupils just want to feel valued not matter what their needs may be.

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