School Update

So yeah I guess I should update about Oscar’s school situation! It’s been a while. But for the longest time it was so up in the air. To be honest it’s not exactly ‘firmly on the ground’ now, but it’s got one foot on the floor and that’s good enough for me at the moment!

So if you remember it was agreed a while ago that Oscar should have an EHCP (an Educational Health Care Plan, the document that replaced the old Statement of Education) due to his diagnosis of Autism. We were thrilled by this decision, as this (legally binding) document sets out the support that he will need, to get the best from his education. Super! It also gives us as parents some heft when it comes to deciding which school he should go to. Fabulous, but this is a huge responsibility. And stressful. I mean what if we get it wrong?

Anyway, that aside, to enable us to try and make the right decision we looked at some specialist schools and some mainstream schools. We knew the ones we liked, the ones we loved and the ones we couldn’t stand. And we passed that info onto the local authority. Some of which was ignored. I think that was the hardest thing. Having to rely on people who weren’t doing what we expected them to do. Several times I was given details of organisations to go to for ‘advice’, when all I really needed was for someone to just do their job properly.

Eventually we were offered the specialist school we (for a myriad of reasons) couldn’t stand. And despite some efforts on their part, the LA just couldn’t get him a place at the specialist school we really liked. And do you know what? That actually helped clarify our minds, more than they had been for a while. Our Plan A had always been to send him to our first choice of mainstream school, one just out of our catchment, but one we felt could give him everything we wanted. And when we got offered a place there, I cried. Being able to put the specialist school question to bed (for now, everything is always ‘for now’ with children!) actually felt so good. I took that as a sign that, for now, this is the right thing to do.

So now we know where he’s going! Woohoo! We have discussed his EHCP with the school and they are totally on board with it all. There is one issue we are jointly going back to the LA to try and amend, and as this involves money it won’t be the easiest argument (because it will be an argument), but I feel like someone’s got my back now, like I’m no longer shouting into the ether. And that’s fantastic.

And when people ask where he’s going I can finally reply, straight up and positively. And that feels the best. I think because we’ve had to faff around for so long over getting his place confirmed that actually I don’t feel as upset about him starting big school as maybe I would have done had it been straightforward.

Now, if I could just get over how sad the thought of buying him black shoes makes me 😭

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The choice is mine, apparently…

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I went to look at a primary school yesterday. The first one I’ve been in, since I was a pupil of one! Oscar’s needs, moving forward are obviously going to be a bit different from your standard pupil (not that I actually believe there is such thing!). But either way, I need to look at school options and I need to start doing it now (or depending on who you speak to I should have been doing it ‘ages‘ ago). Anyway, in order to abate some of the panic that was rising, I made an appointment to go and see a school. Just to have a look. Just to start the process.

You see when I was a child you went to the nearest school. You didn’t have a choice. In fact I lived in a village and we really didn’t have a choice. You went to Balsall Primary or you went private, but that meant serious travelling. And no one really questioned that. The school was good. Hell I thought it was great, but the decision to go there was not really a decision at all. It just was. However today, even in a small town like Haslemere, there is a serious amount of choice, of both state and private schools. Add to that the possibility of specialist provision and I suddenly find myself on the end of what feels like an enormous decision. I know all parents today have more choice in primary schools than, for example, my parents did for me but the process of viewing and deliberating and worrying seems to come down to either what you can afford (if you plan to go private) or what you’re offered (if you’re not). Or am I over simplyfying? At the end of the day you can lust after a state school all you like, but if they don’t offer it to you, even after you appeal, you don’t get it. Your choice is taken into consideration, but really that’s all it is. A consideration.

When you have a child with Autism, the system is different. And I mean very different. We’ll park the weight of responsibility I feel to get this decision “right” for a minute and talk about the process. We have just started down the road towards possibly getting Oscar an EHCP or an Educational Health Care Plan, or what used to be called a Statement. This process in itself is mind boggling complicated and takes months and months of preparation, including assessments by Educational Psychologists and the involvement of many other agencies. The back and forth and back and forth again (and if the stories are to be believed, again and again…) should, if all goes well, result in a legally binding document that means as a parent I can send Oscar to ANY school I believe is best for him. It also means that school has to provide the support he is legally entitled to. I’ll have all sorts of advice, from various assessments and agencies, to listen to and the professionals tell you it’s important you heed the advice. But then experienced Autism parents tell you that, really no one knows your child like you do, so trust your instinct when it comes to choosing the school, mainstream or specialist. Panic rising again!

Anyway, back to the school I looked at. It was a mainstream school, out of my catchment area, but one that’s given me huge amounts of hope. Its also made me want to look at other mainstream schools to see if they are all this attuned to SEN needs or if this really is a stand out school. The head also gave me some really useful advice about dealing with the ‘county’ and what I should be doing right now in order to get his ducks in a row for next year. She didn’t sugar coat how difficult the next year might be in terms of bureaucracy, which I was actually incredibly grateful for.

So today, as per her encouragement, I made a raft of chasing calls and I kept a log of who I rang and what was said. I was dismayed to hear that he STILL hasn’t been assigned a speech and language therapist, despite being on the list for over a year and a promise six weeks ago that sessions would start in July, but not surprised. I had a good conversation with his Early Years Advisor and found out that his preschool notification has definitely been issued. That ball is well and truly rolling.

So I’m feeling slightly more focussed now. I need to make appointments to go a see other schools, including some specialist schools. At least we can’t afford private, so that narrows the field a tiny bit. Every cloud! Once I’ve looked around some more schools, I’m hoping it will mean I can listen to all the advice and trust my instinct. The panic has abated.

For now.

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon