My eyes have been opened today to how hard life can be if you are not fully literate, or if you don’t know how the system works. Our electrician (who we have know for many years and who has become a friend) asked me if I could help with his son, Connor’s, appeal for admission to the local outstanding comprehensive school. He had already undertaken two appeals for different schools and been unsuccessful, and he didn’t know why. When he showed me what he had been saying, I wasn’t in the least surprised – he had concentrated on telling the panel what a good boy his son is and had even offered to take on electrical work for the schools if his son was a pupil there! He is a good guy, and this would not have been intended as a bribe, but as an indication that he would want to be part of the school community. It simply shows his complete and utter lack of understanding of the system.
The irony is that, when I began to question him about his son, he has plenty of reasons for his case being considered at an appeals panel. Firstly, he is hard of hearing, has extremely poor eyesight and has been repeatedly bullied by children who will be attending the school that he has been allocated. Secondly, he has been set upon by Year 8 and 9 children who already attend this school, on the grounds of his religious beliefs. Threats such as ‘you wait til you get to our school’ have been shouted at him.
The bullying about his hearing aids has become so bad that he refuses to wear them and cannot hear teachers talking to him. He has had his glasses trodden on, suffered racial abuse and tried to refuse to go to school.
Yet his parents didn’t know that this was something that could be used at the appeal. They hadn’t thought of getting a doctor’s note, they hadn’t contacted the schools to find out what systems they had in place for children with difficulties such as their son’s (when, at my suggestion, they did this the SENCO from the school they had been allocated never responded and the SENCO from the school they want informed them that there is a child entering Year 7 with a similar problem who will be given a hearing loop), they hadn’t even contacted the LA to find out what they should be aiming to say at the appeals. I asked them what information they had been sent and they didn’t know – they either hadn’t or couldn’t read it, I’m not sure which.
This morning I went to the meeting to meet the panel and for the Head Teacher to make his case. They were obviously overwhelmed and didn’t know what to make of it. Meanwhile, a group of parents at the back (who had arrived in their Chelsea tractors) rather aggressively (and pointlessly, in my view) attacked the Head about the fact that their children would have to get on a bus at 7.30 in the morning to get to the school they had been allocated. Poor dears.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if in 5 years Milly is allocated the school of dubious repute that they are all worried about, I will fight tooth and nail to get her into the school of my choice. I’ll use any argument I can think of – including the arduous, early morning bus ride! But that’s just it. I know the system and, if there is something I don’t know, I know how to get information and help.
I am hoping and praying that we have done enough to get Connor into the school he needs. It may well be that we haven’t, but we have given it a really good shot. Certainly, his education will suffer if he doesn’t get a place – no-one can learn effectively if they are fearful – so I think he has a better case than the kids of the four-by-four driving ‘by the time they get home, they will have done a nine hour shift’ posse.
The appeals go on until Wednesday, so we’ll find out early next week, I guess.