In Celebration of Parents

Yesterday there was a #Michaela hoo ha about parents and one or two teachers stated very clearly that if parents didn’t like their school they were free to take their children elsewhere! This was in the context of disaffected pupils who were at odds with the school #no excuses behaviour policy; predictably there was uproar and SEND issues and nurture and individual needs were bandied about with the temperature of debate becoming very heated.
Now personally, I think it was very unwise for senior staff to state so plainly that school policy revolved around ‘my way or the highway’ and in case anyone thinks it was a 140 characters malfunction in the throes of debate, sadly a visit to one staff blog confirmed that it was indeed policy!

It got me thinking though about parents and how they are perceived. Throughout my career, in a variety of contexts and schools, the views of parents and my interactions with them have been high priority. In my first school, which had a mainly Muslim, non-English speaking intake, there were issues with communication…I can remember on parents’ evening chatting away to a mum and my colleague convulsing in mirth as the lady hadn’t a clue what I was saying! However, my body language, tone of voice and general enthusiasm let her know that her daughter was doing very well! This has stood me in good stead over the years…it’s not what you say it’s how you say it that is important, regardless of language barriers or otherwise!

My next school was in a mixed catchment area and, parent- wise, it was a tale of two halves! They were all demanding of my time but in different ways….the ‘affluent’ parents wanted to quiz you about their offspring’s academic progress, at length and in great detail….the ‘less affluent’ wanted your advice on parenting and to pour out their problems; I still blush today when I recall ‘hiding’ from one mum who came in every morning to buttonhole me for at least half an hour talking about her abusive partner! And yet I approached each parent in the same way, with a sympathetic, listening ear and the air of someone who had time to spare (despite a classroom that needed setting up!) I quickly gained a good reputation with parents whose children had SEN and was known in school for being able to talk round even the most difficult characters! I was less successful with some of the most sharp – elbowed, ‘ pushy’ parents but that came with time and experience.

At my little village school I had a great rapport with parents and ran all sorts of initiatives such as ‘Parents as Educators’….at the end we all went for a night out to celebrate! I visited parents at home to discuss their littlies who were coming into my Reception class, I arranged trips out to which parents were invited with their young ones and it amused me that they turned to me to be the voice of authority as their children wouldn’t do what they said!! At the end of my final year my parents and I went out for a meal together…some refused to call me by my first name and said they could only think of me as Mrs Ward…now that is respect! And I was respected…it was mutual…and they thought I would stay forever and teach through the generations….but the lure of the disaffected was calling me!

I went on to teach as Acting Deputy in a challenging mainstream ‘town’ school before coming to the PRU and learned to poor oil on troubled parental waters! I had a difficult cohort, which I loved, and quickly became the go- to person for other teachers struggling with behaviour. I could empathise with the *problem* children and, importantly, talk to their parents! One mum saw me as her son’s *guardian angel* and bought me a lovely angel figure when I left! I cried buckets!! This lady had exhausted the patience of almost every adult, including the fantastic head, and her boy was given chance after chance, but I was able to engage with them both and his behaviours calmed down! In a no- excuses environment he would have been out on his ear!!

Sadly the no- excuses approach is what fills our primary PRU! Parents do not routinely come into our environment…some are too far away to engage with in our setting….and we meet in TAFS, CP, CIN forums in their home areas. And these parents have had or are having it tough! They frequently feel let down by mainstream…yes, some have drink or drugs problems and poor parenting skills….yes some are loud and argumentative and are regarded as *parents from Hell* And yes…their kids are awkward and have been permanently excluded! But they all deserve our time, our attention and to be listened to! They pour out their hearts to us! They are often angry and they often have complicated lives which some cope with alone! I wish the ‘no-excuses’ advocates could meet our parents….these are the ones schools desperately need to reach….the parents who were often in trouble at school themselves and who are scared and daunted by professionals. And it never ceases to amaze me that the same professionals always seek to blame parents for the behaviour of their children…they get sent on parenting courses or are put on intervention programmes…yet nine times out of ten, within a few days, it becomes apparent that the children have underlying SEN or undiagnosed medical needs! And many are weary from doing battle with doctors and teachers and SEN professionals to get the right help for their kids! I regularly fight the good fight to get recognition and diagnoses and to obtain Education, Health and Care Plans….often the children need specialist provision as mainstream is not suitable! And many have had the #Michaela conversation with their previous schools…why don’t you try another school?…the so- called ‘managed move’ which usually moves the problem and then the whole merrygoround starts spinning again towards disaster and despair!! And our PRU!! ( which is a good thing because we help ).

In my whole career,  I can count on the fingers of one hand the truly toxic parents who didn’t engage appropriately and whose children suffered greatly by their actions..in all cases the children went into social care! As teachers, we can’t change the world and wouldn’t be expected to….but some of us could do a damned sight more than we do now!! Moving schools is often a luxury for the well- heeled with their own transport…unless your catchment area is well- populated with schools within walking distance! ‘My way or the highway’ is unrealistic if you cannot drive or run a car! We need to give respect to families, no matter how difficult or challenging, because , at the end of the day, our actions affect children! As teachers we need to be the grown-ups here!!

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My Seuss Moments

I love the Dr Seuss books and this morning I saw a great Lorax tweet which pretty much sums up my view of education and how we care about our children….particularly the lost and the vulnerable who often end up in our PRU!

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And we do have to care….because if WE don’t the power brokers,  the vested interests, the corporate movers and shakers will airbrush caring out of the system and will replace it with their own world view which is costed down to the last penny ; I see it happening now, in all our caring services, and not least in education!

And strength comes in numbers…banding together to face down inappropriate testing, forced academisation, ridiculous curriculum changes and anything else that the ‘great and the good’ deem we have to accept….if we don’t stand firm then we will have lost precious, irreplaceable freedoms to do what is best for our children. It is the children who matter and it is for them we have to say no, this isn’t right and act together.

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In my PRU the stakes are getting higher and we are now full of permanent exclusions. However exclusions are still happening and pupils who should come to us are having part time or no home tuition depending on parental views….not every parent wants a stranger in their home, even one delivering education, and not every child can access this in their home as it may not be the right place. And why is this happening? Because the provision has been cut and cut and, sadly, we are a 32 place unit serving over 150 primary schools in our area.

Of course we offer early intervention to our schools and do our best to keep in as many children as we can in mainstream through one to ones, training, advice and support, SEN consultations….you name it we do it…and we are jolly good at it! Alas, we are losing this funding from September and have to earn it back through a complex system of recording and reporting to the LA. No one knows how it will work in practice…a familiar tale…and if it doesn’t work we are heading for disaster in terms of viability, staffing and budgetary forward planning; not one school I have spoken to supports it but, nevertheless, it is going ahead and we just have to get on with it! More so because our vulnerable children on the fringes need us to make it work for all our sakes!

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Gone are the days when we can pass the buck to someone else if we have a problem in school with a child….there IS no one else! We have to be proactive and solution focused and, sorry schools, but you will have to pay if you want our help! And if your overstretched, tightly squeezed budgets can’t afford it, well,  exclusion is still free. And here we go in a circle….back to our full unit…and children sitting at home, uneducated, because they may have undiagnosed SEN which underlies their challenging behaviours….we’ll never know unless they come to us or a mainstream takes a chance on them….and we all ride round on the merrygoround of failure and despair! Still if we save a few quid…a few more councillors get their expenses paid….the government can claim austerity is working…we are all in it together after all!

So who is going to stand up for our lost and forgotten? Me and you, and you…and you! Listen to advice, accept help….try and make it work for every child in your classes! Don’t just throw your hands up and say nothing can be done or wait for the head to press the exclude button when it all spirals out of control! Get in touch with your local AP provider or PRU, your SEND team, any known independent consultants who are tried and tested…permanent exclusion should be the last resort.

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And if it comes to that, can you, hand on heart, look at yourself in the mirror and say you tried everything for that child?  Some children need to be in a small, specialist setting and will thrive there but an EHC Plan (statement) is needed to get them to the right place…a PRU is strictly short stay! It is not an easy task but you CAN do it!

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Well..OK. ..maybe not that much…but your mindset needs to be firmly focused on success! You can make a difference!

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