The following case study is a written record of a recorded interview with Sharon whose daughter Maria currently attends the Family School. The Family School is a pioneering alternative provision school for pupils aged 5-14 whose difficulties are beyond what can be handled in mainstream schools. The school was established and is sponsored by AFNCCF and combines mental health support with education in the classroom and parents and carers also attend lessons.
Maria began attending the Family school after being excluded from mainstream school.
No sooner would I get to work after dropping her off to her old school than I’d get a call asking for me to come back and collect her. They said Maria was acting out, not following instructions, not following the routine. Because they didn’t know what to do with her they’d put her in all kinds of places, she’s been put into the nursery, in year 6, the school office. I asked why I wasn’t brought to my attention sooner and we could have dealt with it. I didn’t know what was going on at school because I didn’t experience it at home. I didn’t know what they were talking about when I got the phone calls from the school. In the space of a week the school was saying that because of her behaviour, Maria would have to be excluded.
I was devastated. And it wasn’t just the teachers, you would notice other parents. They didn’t want to talk to you, you were pointed out, their kids were told not to play with Maria. We became really isolated. Maria was very frustrated with everything that was going on. She would come out in spots, she was very stressed and I was quite ill when all of this was happening. One day at school a teacher mistakenly reported that Maria said she wanted to kill herself and that’s when social services got involved and it was from them that we found out about the Family school and got Maria a place.
Maria has been attending the Family School for over two years now. When we first got here and I realised that parents could stay at the school during the day I thought I’d give it a go. After a couple of weeks I saw what Maria’s teachers were talking about. Maria running out of class, being disrespectful, not following the rules. She wasn’t doing it at home so the Family School allowed me to see Maria’s behaviour myself.
Clinicians at the Family School were able to identify that Maria had sensory difficulties particularly around touch and smell. Textures and smells which would not bother most children caused Maria physical sickness. This heightened sensitivity may never have been identified within a mainstream setting. It allowed Sharon to adapt Maria’s lifestyle and diet so she was not distracted in school by this problem. Maria also suffers from Perthes Disease a rare childhood condition that affects the hip.
Maria has been walking since she was one but one morning when she was still a toddler she started crawling again. We took her to the local hospital where we discovered that Maria has Perthes disease. It made it difficult for her to walk so she’d been attending Great Ormond Street hospital until very recently when she got the all clear. It’s taken a while to sort out all these things which affect Maria every day. We had no idea that Perthes disease and her sensory difficulties could have such an impact on her life but now we have identified them we can do our best to help her.
Working with other parents and carers in the Family school is great because you don’t feel like you are on your own. In mainstream school people didn’t want to know you and you felt like you were the only person going through it but coming here, talking with other people in the same position it’s really reassuring and gives you a lot more confidence. We have the Family Session every Wednesday where we can share advice and support, it really helps us as parents. I learn a lot from working with some of the other children as well and because your own child always knows what buttons to press, having other parents there relieves a lot of the pressure.
Because I’ve spent this time with Maria, I know now that I need to be more involved with her education and so we’ve helped each other. She’s definitely has made improvements, steadily returning to mainstream school. She started with half a day a week and is up to 3 days a week now. We’re taking it at her pace. It’s a big change going back from the Family School but she’s making fantastic progress. None of her new teachers have reported any problems, they’ve actually given me positive feedback. She’s come a long way.
I was so glad that Maria ended up at the Family School. I don’t know where she would be otherwise. After she was excluded it felt like more effort was put into getting her out of the way rather than helping her. Maria’s looking at secondary schools now and we’re hoping she will settle into fulltime mainstream education, maybe go onto college and then the sky’s the limit.