I have to admit, it’s been far too long since I even felt the need to write my thoughts down. I’m not sure why, but my brain hasn’t been doing its usual churning that often results in the need to write something down to clear my head.
Anyway, the last 6 months have been… interesting…
It all began in September with the recently activated legislation surrounding “Designated Teachers” in school and the alteration of their role to include what are coldly called “previously looked after children” – for the rest of us that usually means adopted children or children who now live with a Special Guardian, though there are others that fall under that label too.
The legislation covers a whole range of things, from Pupil Premium to exclusions, but the main crux of it – from my point of view at least – is that it guides the Designated Teacher to communicate with parents or carers like us to enable the school to address any emotional or social issues that our children have, in order to prevent them becoming a wider issue at school.
As a governor I had pointed this legislation change out to the head teacher a couple of times to make sure that she was aware. She gave me the impression that she was and I was made to feel like I was interfering unnecessarily.
So, September came, the legislation changes activated, and we waited to be contacted by the Designated Teacher, and we waited, and we waited. Then we asked the school for a meeting with them (we also asked who it was as we didn’t know).
And the head teacher intercepted our request and replied “No”. As you can imagine there were multiple exchanges in correspondence, with the head clearly getting more and more irate with us and getting – in my opinion – more and more unprofessional in her replies. We wouldn’t back down because our children’s welfare was at stake.
The head said she asked the virtual school and told us they had said she didn’t need to do anything with our children. We contacted the virtual school to express our concerns and they requested a meeting. A meeting, I might add, that has still not happened – although we have since managed to address it ourselves.
The head eventually told us who the Designated Teacher was, copying her into the email. The Designated Teacher then replied to the email saying she didn’t know what the head was talking about and wasn’t aware of any changes to her role. *facepalm*
So, we took it upon ourselves to link her to the Virtual School web page that told her about it, which also linked to the Statutory Guidance.
Now, anyone – adopter, foster carer or special guardian – who is having difficulties with school and doesn’t know about the above guidance I would highly recommend downloading and reading it, then taking it to the school with it heavily highlighted. This is what we had to do to show the areas that the school wasn’t following.
In the mean time the head teacher admitted that the school had failed to claim the pupil premium plus for my son, despite us pushing for them to do so and providing all the documentation necessary before he even started at the school! That’s £2,300 that was meant to be spent on the group of children like my son that the school didn’t have. (Suddenly the denial for the requested meeting about how that money could benefit our sons made more sense).
We ended up having to get the chair of governors involved, again, to even get through the door for a meeting. Due to the – in our opinion – unprofessional way we were being spoken to by the head we made the unfortunate decision to make a formal complaint against her.
That meeting was productive, although it could easily have deteriorated into us rubbishing all of the head’s excuses for not having followed the guidance (apparently she didn’t know about the changes because the LA hadn’t sent it to her – maybe not, but I HAD months before, and was complained about as a result!). In the end we agreed to another meeting in January with the virtual school, if they could make it, and the staff were all going to have a session on attachment issues done by the virtual school. The school had also started the process of becoming “attachment aware”.
This was all presented as if it were what the school was doing anyway, although towards the end the chair of governors specifically said “this is all because of you” kicking up a fuss. So I’m glad we did.
We were asked if this was enough to get our complaint dropped. It wasn’t really, as the complaint was never against the school, it was about the way the head was treating us, but we agreed to drop it if only to move things forward. An apology would have been nice, but that never came, and was never likely to.
On the last day of term before Christmas we were told that the meeting in January was cancelled as the virtual school couldn’t make it. I thought that was a bit odd as they were meant to be invited to the meeting as a guest, not be the main part of it. We came away thinking the meeting was meant to be for us and the school to discuss ongoing plans, with the VS there to offer any extra advice.
Anyway, in the holidays just before term restarted we had yet another terse email exchange with the head, with us trying to get the meeting reinstated. Eventually it was, oddly enough the emails from the head were horribly rude until we started copying in the chair of governors, at which point she capitulated and reinstated the meeting.
A couple of days before the meeting we received a letter asking for us to attend another meeting with the Designated Teacher in regard to our boys. Finally!
The main meeting was very productive, everyone who was involved with our children was in attendance, the chair of governors invited herself to keep an eye on proceedings. The meeting was chaired by the Designated Teacher, and we went through the initial stages of the process that the school had either created or had for the SEN children already. We went through some of the relevant parts of the boys’ history to try to get them to understand that while they don’t have too many issues now, that doesn’t mean it will continue like that forever if things aren’t put in place now.
Again, everything was presented as if they were always going to do it. I knew better. The attachment training was mentioned as being eye-opening (yay!) by the head. That is good, but it wasn’t minuted (by the head who was minute taker), and we have seen no change whatsoever in any school policy since then. If they truly took it on board I would have expected that something would have gone into the Behaviour Policy at the very least.
Since all that, we have now had a meeting with the Designated Teacher, who has set up some play therapy for the boys – this has gone down very well with them. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but since then one boy has become better at showing his emotions, and the other has become better at containing and regulating them. Success!
We now have termly meetings with the Designated Teacher, and are due our next one after Easter.
In summary I would urge anyone who has adopted a child, or has a child through Special Guardianship (especially the latter) to look at whether the school is claiming Pupil Premium Plus for their child. This is especially important for Secondary School pupils, as it doesn’t happen automatically when they move up, you need to provide evidence of their status again.
It’s £2,300 that schools will get extra, specifically for helping with ’emotional or social’ issues beyond just ones that will affect them academically. If the school don’t seem to be doing this pull them up on it. Ask them who their Designated Teacher is, go to the school and take the guidance document with you.
For some schools, like ours, this is a steep learning curve, for us as parents it is too, but we have to educate ourselves in the relevant processes so we can help the schools do what they need to do. In our case the school reacted very poorly to us offering to help set up the processes, not all schools will. We got there in the end, but it took a lot of effort.
I’m pleased to say that, currently at least, both our children love going to school. They are both achieving well academically, and seem to be getting adequate support emotionally. It’s not perfect, I still get abused by one of my sons going into school due to what I suspect are attachment issues, but he goes in willingly for the most part. The staff in general have been very good with the children, but I suspect going forward, it will be down to us to police the processes that go on as the leadership still seem unwilling to put anything into a formal policy.
Title Image: Element5 Digital