I left school when I was fourteen. I began using a wheelchair and due to a proliferation of stairs and fears about insurance the school said they could no longer accommodate me. Though for some reason, I’m guessing DDA issues, they left me on their register. I had such a desire to learn but no alternative education was arranged. Although we were assured that had I been expelled I would have been entitled to it. My parents frequently called the school and went into their offices to demand I be given an education but nothing changed.
When I was in hospital for a month the hospital school asked them to send over work for me. They sent German (none of the teachers in the hospital spoke German), music (there was no access to instruments) and food technology (there was no access to kitchens).
In the end, once my mother’s last nerve had broken and she sat in the office threatening the head master, they allowed me to go into their library and work for 2 hours per week. This included a 10 minute chat with a teacher. I bought a Letts book and worked my arse off, day in, day out, to catch up on two years maths work in two months. In the end I left school with one qualification: a GCSE in mathematics at grade C.
It has plagued me throughout my life. I’ve had remissions and relapses since then, but this failure in my early education has prevented me from finding work during my periods of relative wellness. It led to me having seriously dented self-esteem, and making decisions that fell in line with that, including a disastrous and emotionally abusive marriage at the age of twenty. I thought I was stupid. I’d largely missed out on education from Year 7 (age 11) onwards and for years didn’t know how to write a basic sentence. I had to read numerous books to self-learn even the very basics.
It was only when I was nineteen and on an Access course that I began to believe that I might be intelligent. I received top marks throughout the course and intended to attend Cambridge University. Unfortunately my ill health reared its ugly head again and I had to forego this opportunity and instead had to decide to do my degree through the Open University instead. It took me 7 years to complete my degree. Ill health, being a parent of 3 boys, and a carer to my son who has autism, slowed down my ability to complete my degree any sooner. However, I eventually graduated at the age of 30 with a First Class degree in History. At the same time I finally completed GCSEs in English and Science, both with A*s. On the one hand, I am very proud of my academic achievements, which I gained in spite of everything I’ve been through. On the other, I feel saddened and ponder what might have been for me if I had been properly supported whilst at school.
I’m now 31 with little work history. I rely on my husband financially and will lose my ESA in June as I was, for some bizarre reason (considering my current level of ill health), placed in the Work Related Activity Group. This is contributions based so I will lose benefit because my husband works. My husband earns the average UK wage, but spread across a family of five it will not go far. I want to work. Three years ago I was placed in a psychiatric hospital because my desire to work was so great, that I became incredibly depressed about not being able to do so, and I attempted to take my life twice in one weekend, and stopped eating anything other than tea with two sugars in it for six months. I didn’t want to face a life of dependency and fear. I’m now longer suicidal but that desire still stands. Currently I am too ill to do much of anything other than lie in bed and stare at the screen. But I know that when I have another remission I will have significant problems finding a job, and I am sure this all stems from the education I was denied as a young person. Disability makes it difficult to find work, being denied an education makes it so much harder.
I’ve written before about the problems my son is facing in education. In summary, he has autism and ADHD and is now in his third year of being home educated due to him being failed by mainstream education. For three years we have been trying to find out about how we can get him a statement of special educational needs and we’ve recurrently come up against misinformation and confusion. Eventually, with the help of a wonderful CAMHS MH nurse we managed to begin the statementing process from home. Most people do not even seem to realise that you can seek a statement when you home educate, and that includes the people who work within the sector. Yet, all you need to do is write a letter to your LEA, following a guideline letter, requesting that your child be statemented, and then, if they agree, write the statement appendices A and B yourself.
We have just received his proposed statement and the provisions in it are surprisingly good, but they are trying to place him in a mainstream school, not even one with resourced provision (a specialist unit within mainstream), because there aren’t enough places in special schools. We thought receiving a statement would be the end of our fight, but the fight NEVER ends when you’re a parent of a child with special needs. The relationship between parent and local authority is one of arbitration. They don’t want to spend money and you need them to. I’ve often been told by specialists that support goes to the parents who shout the loudest, so it comes down to a matter of competition for resources. Education is a basic right enshrined in the UNICEF Rights of the Child, yet, children all over the UK are being denied this most basic of rights. It happened to me 17 years ago and it is now happening to my son. Nothing changes because the state just isn’t willing to invest enough money to fund what is desperately needed.
I began a petition, demanding that the UK government directs more funds to CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service), and to SEN schooling. Can you please take the time to sign and share. I know that petitions aren’t the best thing in the world, and I’m not expecting it to result in millions of pounds suddenly appearing, but we need to send a clear message to Michael Gove, and the Department for Education, that this will not be tolerated. So please, with a cherry on top, do sign it. It takes about a minute and could make an impact if enough people sign.
Having started the petition and writing about our own experiences, I began to receive a lot of messages from other parents who had been through similar, or oftentimes worse, situations with their children. The comments on the petition also state time and again that their child with special needs did not receive an adequate education. This problem is widespread across the UK and despite Tory lies to the contrary, they are doing nothing to change it, and simply privatising what little state provision there is. Thousands of children are leaving school with no qualifications, when, with the right support, they could be capable of so much more. The coalition have written a white paper entitled “Support and Aspiration”, alas, in reality, they provide neither.
The Tory mantra regarding disability and work is laughable. They say that people with disabilities have been parked on benefits and denied the ability to find work. In their rhetoric they are the saviours of the disenfranchised, rather than the peddlers of monetised eugenics. One of the simplest ways to ensure people with disabilities can enter the workforce is to ensure they have adequate access to an appropriate education, with parity to people without special needs. However, people in certain professions, such as speech and language therapy, have been losing their jobs left, right and centre. SEN funding has been altered so that schools have to find the first £6,000 themselves, which makes them hesitant to take on children with special needs, and cut corners when fulfilling statements where ever possible. The funding for tertiary colleges for people with disabilities is in jeopardy, and Remploy factories have been closed down.
The Tories don’t give a damn about people with disabilities finding work, they only care about massaging employment figures. You can, for instance, be “self-employed”, earning £10 per week and having your income entirely subsidised by tax credits, but you are off the unemployment records and that’s what matters to them. It’s pure propaganda. If they want to suggest it is anything but, they need to increase their funding of special educational needs and disability support pronto, but in a constant chorus of cuts, this is unlikely. Autism is on the increase, the government needs to accept this and alter education accordingly. Not continuously deny what is so desperately needed under the hackneyed banner of “inclusion”. How can we pride ourselves on the great liberalism of this nation, whilst simultaneously treating some of the most vulnerable people in this country so appallingly?