It’s the twenty million dollar question isn’t it? How do you go about picking a school for your child that will do all the things you want it to? Do you go on their Ofsted: outstanding schools only? Or on their league tables? Pick the one with the best SATS scores? Do you go on recommendation? Do you consider staff turnover? Or exclusion figures? Do you avoid the ones with chequered pasts?
Which measures should you look at to get the most accurate indication of an establishment’s ability to educate your child? This is a huge question and I fear this blog is going to mess with heads more than answering it.
The thing is, on paper, the boys’ school might be considered dubious. It is currently rated ‘good’ by Ofsted but before that it ‘required improvement’. There is an on-going question over leadership and all sorts of political shenanigans happening that I really can’t go into. It does fair to middling on league tables. There is quite a bit of muttering in the playground and some parents have decided to talk with their feet in recent months.
However, despite all that, I bloody love it. It isn’t that we’ve always had the easiest time or that relationships were built immediately or that they just ‘got’ LB because none of those things happened. In fact, at times, I’ve been tearing my hair out. If you want to know more about our history with school, you can read these posts: Adoptive Parent: Behaviour Detective
There are several factors that have led me to having the warm, fuzzy feelings I have towards them now. First of all, despite LB’s behaviour being difficult to understand, difficult to cope with in a busy classroom and it requiring novel practices, not one member of teaching staff has ever given up on him. Not at any point. They have never rang me and asked me to bring him home. They have never made us feel that they can’t/ won’t help him or us. His TA, who has to get a special mention because I wasn’t always sure she was the right appointment, has been there for him, day in, day out, for two years now, even though he has hurt her and called her names and refused to do anything she says (at points). She could have handed her notice in and gone to find a much easier job, but she hasn’t. She’s changed her days when LB has needed her to and she has put up with uncertainty over the funding which pays her. She has visited him at home during the holidays and brings him things from her home she thinks he might enjoy in school.
I don’t know how to quantify that sticking power/commitment or which sort of league table or report would validate it.
And the teachers/TA don’t just tolerate LB, they love him and it’s obvious (to him as well, I imagine). At least two members of staff have cried with pride at what he has achieved. Unlike some schools which have strict ‘no touching’ policies, they are all willing to show LB he is loved through cuddles and physical reassurance if he needs them to, including his current rugby-playing male teacher. It’s hard to do that in this day and age but LB needs it, and the teachers know that.
They are very instinctive about his love for animals too and don’t bat an eyelid about him going into assembly with two guinea pigs, or spending some time with the school dog. They do forest school (big tick), plenty of sport and are happy to fly in the face of convention or go above and beyond if necessary. Two members of staff will visit us at home, as part of transition, for example.
I think much of what makes me so happy about the school, comes from the genuinely caring people who work in it. We’ve now worked closely with four different teachers and the TA and every one of them has cared enough about LB and about meeting his needs the best they can, that they’ve been willing to listen and to do things differently. Again, I don’t know how to quantify that willingness but it is essential. Without it, I would still be tearing my hair out. In fact I’d probably be fully bald and rocking a rebelliously coloured wig.
The teachers were not experts in trauma when they met LB. I would say their knowledge has ranged from none to some but, crucially, they have been open to other professionals coming in (post adoption support & a psychologist) and to listening to them. Over time, though I won’t lie about the difficulty in achieving this, they have become willing to listen to us too.
One of the biggest journeys we have been on has been with LB’s current teacher. We have gone from inappropriate comments about ‘attention-seeking’ and ‘manipulating adults’, born out of not knowing any better, to him pro-actively passing on key, attachment sensitive strategies to the next teacher. He has literally turned things around from LB refusing school and being anxious in his classroom, to LB being happy, making accelerated progress and having a warm, trusting relationship with each other. That willingness – to admit there’s a problem, reflect on it, take advice on it and action change – is immeasurable. As a human, it is uncomfortable and can be confidence-shaking to go through that sort of process. Many teachers are not willing to lay themselves bare in that way, instead becoming entrenched in how they’ve always done it.
We all sat in a transition meeting yesterday – him, us, LB’s next teacher, his TA and the acting SENCO (reception & yr 1 teacher) – and it actually felt like a team meeting. Like we were LB’s team and we were all working together to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for him. It wasn’t combative, there wasn’t disagreement, I didn’t leave despairing or feeling they think I’m neurotic – all of which have happened many times before. It felt like a collection of people, each with their own set of knowledge and skills, and a mutual respect for the others, brought together by their shared commitment to provide the best they can for LB. It has felt a long time coming, but my goodness I’m grateful for it. And not only that, I’m proud of it.
I’m proud of our persistence and unwavering commitment to being friendly even when things have been tough – these relationships would not be so solid otherwise – and without somehow building up a foundation of respect and trust, it is almost impossible to effect change. I’m proud of the teachers for their openness, commitment, willingness and genuine care. I’m proud of LB for teaching a bunch of grown-ups the most they’ve learned in a long time and for persevering when the strategies have not been right for him. I’m proud, that with the support of his exceptional school, LB continues to confound expectations.
I don’t give a fig about the Ofsted report, the league table, the SATS scores or even the political shenanigans (though we could do without them) because none of it really matters. Its people and relationships that make the difference and LB’s ‘team’ rocks.