Grenouille’s nursery schooling was a real patchwork. On Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, it was the local mainstream pre-school, initially with me as support and then, once G hit three and became eligible for funding, with one of two 1:1 aides. On Tuesdays, we had a home visit from the Portage worker (followed by a peripatetic Early Years Teacher once G graduated from the Portage programme), and on Thursdays, we went to the specialist nursery that worked particularly on G’s motor difficulties.
I say ‘we’, because the philosophy of the specialist nursery was that they asked parents to stay for part of the sessions, so that the Mums and Dads (and Nans and Grandpas) could know what their child was learning, do some of the activities together, and be able to carry those activities through into life at home. We family members worked through passive movement and plinth exercises with our children, then retired as a group to the parents’ room until we were needed for snack- and meal-times and other activities requiring a level of 1:1 support beyond what the staff could provide.
When G started school, the head of the Resource Base was happy to support G in continuing with the school-level programme that the specialist centre offered, so on Tuesdays, I drove 10 miles south to collect G from school at lunchtime, then headed 15 miles north to the centre. In the scheme of things, our journey was relatively short – children aged 5-15 came from a 50-mile radius to attend this session. Although parents were no longer required as helpers in the same way as at the nursery stage, most of them – all mothers, most weeks – had come too far to go home during the sessions, so we would sit in the parents’ room and enjoy the luxury of a legitimate three-hour break.
Inevitably, a lot of the conversations that went on were about comparing notes and swapping tips, because there was usually someone needing a steer from the experts by experience. One mother knew just about everything there is to know about gait training and the different therapies and equipment available; another was a Braillist and knew a lot about visual impairment; others could offer insights on gastrostomy and tube-feeding. After my epic fight with the Local Authority to get G’s Statement done properly (22 months, start to finish, and five hours in front of an SEN Tribunal), I suppose I was the barrack-room lawyer, with a special interest in speech and other therapies. At any rate, I could quote large chunks of the Education Acts, the statutory guidance in the SEN Code of Practice, and the judgements in cases like ‘Lancashire’ ( R v Lancashire County Council ex parte M 1989 2 FLR 279). For many of the children who attended the specialist session, the issue of therapies-as-education was a continual bugbear; they needed therapies in school in order to be in a position to benefit from other aspects of education, but the LAs were deeply reluctant to arrange them and foot-dragged endlessly over providing then. I could point people at where to look for the sort of evidence they would need to support SEN appeals, or suggest ideas for wording of letters to health professionals, LAs and the Tribunal.
One dark November afternoon, a mother brought in a file of correspondence with her child’s LA, documenting a long tussle over the LA’s refusal to provide therapies under the Statement, and while wind-driven rain whipped horizontally across the windowpanes, we sat in the bright warmth and went through it together, with much wielding of a marker pen and comments from me on the rubbishness of the LA’s process. The only explanation that appeared plausible for the Authority’s seemingly wilful refusal to understand her child’s needs was that this mother was a non-native English speaker, and that her sometimes unusual idiom was being misconstrued on purpose. With input from the other mothers, we worked together on finding forms of words that even the most deliberately obtuse LA could not fail to understand. Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with another cup of coffee and over the steam from her mug, she said, “Now I understand how you got the Statement exactly for G as you wanted. At County Hall, must they a lot worry when they you coming see !”
I was surprised into a crack of laughter, and nearly slopped hot coffee into my lap. “Oh, I reckon G’s SENA file has a big red warning stamp corner-to-corner across the front cover, saying, ‘MOTHER FROM HELL'”.
At which the other dozen mothers in the room burst out laughing as well, and chorused, “Ours too!”
As #107days rolls on, I very much hope that there are some people, in LAs and other public bodies, who are going to find out that their worst nightmare is a band of mothers who have been through Hell for their children and, having emerged toughened from the flames, have now allied to hunt down those responsible for setting light to the fires. And pyres.