How? How can it be nearly the end of the summer term already. We’ve had sports day (he took part, he did bloody brilliantly), we’ve had the school summer trip to the beach (say whaaaat? I grew up the Midlands. It was all mining museums and Shakespeare when I was a kid!) The shorts have been bought out from the back of the cupboard and I’ve started the mammoth thank you gift spree I and every other SEN parent does at the end of the year (it’s not a village raising my guy – it’s a flipping county!).
Only, this year, the gifts I buy and who I buy them for is taking on a particular significance. Because not only is Oscar moving into Key Stage 2 next year (or ‘The Juniors’ if you’re old like me!). He’s going to another school entirely. And writing that sentence has made me cry. And now I know why it’s taken me so long to write about this.
So OK, bit of back story. Oscar was diagnosed with Autism (Spectrum Disorder – neither word I am down with btw, but maybe that’s a post for another day) just before his third birthday. When it came to choosing a school for him in Year R we went through the whole specialist school process, only to be sure that our first choice of mainstream school was the right one for him. And so that’s where he went.
And at no point in the last three years have I ever ONCE questioned that choice. His school have been nothing but supportive and inclusive and Oscar has thrived there. His increase in understanding, communication and academic ability is everything we hoped for and more.
That being the case, the decision to move him, from a primary school we love, may seem a confusing one and you’d be right. It’s taken huge amounts of soul searching and studying my own motivation, to come to this difficult decision. Yeah it’s been a tough year.
It started with a suggestion from the school that, without a crystal ball, no one was sure how Oscar would cope with the gear change from Key Stage 1 to 2. The way the children are taught and the national expectations put on them changes dramatically between Years 2 and 3 and no one wanted to ‘set him up to fail’.
Of course this made me stop and think, but honestly my first reaction was ‘well no one knew how he’d do in Year R and he’s coping well’. Then I heard myself say it in meetings and I started to think, ‘do I want him just to cope?’.
So I cried down the phone at the SENCO and arranged meetings with possible schools and travelled all over Surrey to visit potential providers and completed application forms and held my breath.
Obviously there was a delay of quite some months between applying and finding out the result and in that time I’d almost talked myself out of the whole idea. I’d gone back to the argument that he was doing well academically where he was, he was settled, he knew the place, why rock the boat?
When we found out he’d been accepted to what was our first choice of school, we were pleased, but I was pretty ready to hand it back. Thanks, but no thanks. Then I thought I should just run the idea past Oscar. He’s not a baby anymore and he is getting really good at expressing himself and how he feels. So one night, at bedtime, when we were cuddled up and calm, I just threw it out there. How would he feel if he ever had to leave his school and go to another one?
He immediately sat up and said he wanted to. In no uncertain terms. He told me he wasn’t happy where he was, he felt he didn’t have any friends, he found the work too hard and he was often confused!
His reply floored me. He’d never mentioned any of these things. I knew he didn’t play with his classmates at lunch time as he attended ‘lunch club’ which provided more focused activities for children who struggled with the free flow of the playground. But I didn’t realise this had left him feeling isolated and unable to make friends. I also knew in Year 1 he’d spent a lot of lesson time in the room adjacent to his classroom, as they’d found he simply couldn’t concentrate with so many people round him. But I also knew this hadn’t been an issue this year and he spent all his lesson time in with his class.
He’d progressed so much from last year I thought he was doing really well. But just because he was learning to cope in these environments didn’t mean he was happy. And that was such a kick in the stomach. I felt so guilty. And I started to question my motives for keeping him there. If it wasn’t because he was happy and settled, why was it?
Turning the mirror on your own motivations, especially when it comes to your children, isn’t pretty. I realised one of the things I loved most about him going to a local mainstream school, was that whenever anyone asked where he went, I could tell them and that would be the end of the conversation. People just accepted it without me ever having to mention his diagnosis. Without even having to think about Autism. For a split second I was just a mum. Just like them.
I was horrified when I realised that that was actually the case. I was so angry with myself. How could I be so selfish? But I quickly realised I wasn’t really angry. Just incredibly sad. Sad for myself. Sad for the little girl who just desperately wants to fit in. Because that’s all that was really about. I’m just glad I was able to look at the situation with understanding eyes (two years of therapy paying for itself right there!).
So it was looking more and more like moving him was the right thing to do. But I wanted him to be sure. I wanted him to understand that he would be moving to another school. That there would still be work to do. I arranged for the whole family to go see the school. We visited on a Monday morning when all the children were in lessons. And it was the cutest, funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
Oscar asked the head if he could talk to the children. He then strode up to the front of the class, introduced himself as Oscar Fredrick Savage and asked if anyone had any questions for him. I nearly died keeping my giggles in! One of the students asked if Oscar was any good at Maths. To which O honestly answered “I’m good at easy Maths but not hard maths. Any more questions?” It still makes me guffaw when I think about it!
And that was that. At the end of the day, regardless of the reasons I’d had for keeping him in the same place or the reasons I’d had for moving him, we just ended up following his lead. It’s always been the same way. I’m not sure why I’m surprised it was the same this time.
His new school is still a mainstream school, with a centre for children with a communication or interaction need, where he’ll be based. Hopefully this set up means he’ll get the best of both worlds. It’s further away than I would ideally like, but he will still be getting transport there and back, like he always has. He’s done two induction mornings this week and as far as I can tell he likes it there. He’s told us he wants to start right away. As he doesn’t start until September. I think it’s going to be a long summer!
His current school is still wonderful. You’d be lucky to have your child go there (if it worked for them of course). I’ll miss it so much. The people, the buildings, the playground, the understanding.
Oscar says he’ll miss his den in the trees and Maggie the school dog.
Part of me is still sad. Part of me still feels a little like I’ve failed somehow (ridiculous I know, but you can’t help how you feel). Part of me feels like I need to explain to everyone that it’s not the school’s fault, that his current school is still awesome for children with additional needs. That he can cope where he is. But that I just want more than that for my boy.
And another part of me knows I don’t have to explain anything. To anyone. So the next time someone asks me which school he goes to, I’ll just tell them.
And leave it at that.