Social media is awash this week with ‘first day at new school’ photos; smart kids beaming proudly in their as yet unstained new uniforms. Buster starts a new school today, but I don’t feel happy or proud. Today he starts at an EBD school. Buster bravely boarded a ‘special’ bus into central London with a group of people he’d never met before. Of course we gave him a joyous ‘It’s going to be fantastic, you are fantastic’ send off , but as the bus rolled away I felt extremely sad. Gone are the days of walking up to school together with his big brother and the dog. Gone are friendships with local peers, the chatting at the gate, the impromptu playdates.
We tried EVERYTHING we could to keep Buster in mainstream education but two things prevented us. Firstly our own understanding of Buster’s needs, they were more complex than we initially realised and putting him in a three form entry school was not the wisest of moves. Perhaps a smaller school would have helped, perhaps a long spell of schooling at home would have helped. Maybe if CAMHS had been more interventionist in early therapies? We’ll never know…
The second cause was the school itself. Despite encouraging, lobbying and a good deal of external pressure the school simply did not attempt to become in any way attachment aware. Buster’s tantrums and explosive (sometimes violent outbursts) were always perceived as behavioural issues that could be corrected and dealt with through exclusions. Buster had a fully funded EHCP but no staff member working with him ever got trained in attachment and early trauma. I sent suggestions of free training courses to the head and inset ideas and this was met with disdain as senior management knew best… I found the head intractable and at times deliberately obtuse. He wanted Buster out.
By the middle of year one, the multiple exclusions meant Buster’s self-esteem hit rock bottom and our family stress levels hit an all-time high. The proverbial straw came when the deputy head rang us in the summer term to announce that future exclusions would be a week at a time. We were being forced to look elsewhere. We considered other (less severe than an EBD school) options for Buster, but as he had had so many exclusions, at such a young age, other schools would not take him.
So now he’s in a school for children with severe behavioural difficulties, many of whom come from extremely difficult and dysfunctional families, very much like the one Buster was removed from. I know the school will have many benefits; the staff seem brilliant, it is holistic, therapeutic and class sizes are small and manageable. There’s a good deal more play and bags more understanding of children’s complex social needs. But it is very different… and it does feel very sad that our tiny son, whose favourite programme is Peppa Pig, is thrown in amongst the toughest to teach kids in South London.