As I write this, Ella is at an orientation for her new school – her new secondary school.
Grade 7, or as they say here in the UK, Year 7.
I have dreaded this moment since the day she started her education 8 years ago.
It is certainly not how I pictured it. Six schools, two provinces and two countries later, Ella is going to secondary school alone. None of her friends will make this transition with her and because of our current circumstances, I was not even allowed to accompany her in.
You see Ella is going to a specialised school – better termed, segregated school.
I never thought the day would come, it goes against everything I believe in and all that I had hoped for but I had to do what was right for Ella.
Being an advocate means fighting for what’s best.
The system is broken and it is more broken in our part of the country than any other. It is a three tier-system of Grammar schools (for those who pass the 11+ test), catchment schools and specialised schools. I visited many schools over the last two years, but after each visit I would have to take some time before going to the next. Every tour and every meeting left me feeling like had been knocked to the ground and had the life kicked out of me.
I fought for her. I talked for hours with the SENCOs (teachers who oversees plans for special educational provisions – think IEP or IPP). After telling me she wouldn’t be welcomed or taught appropriately, I threatened to send her anyway. They couldn’t legally refuse me but I knew in my heart that these schools were not equipped to teach Ella. There would be no modified curriculum. Because of the three-tier system, the spectrum of ability is so narrow. Even within the schools, children are streamed into sets according to ability based on standardised tests…friends, it’s so broken, so backwards.
Being an advocate means choosing the best of the worst.
If I sent Ella to the catchment school with her brother she would be lost in a sea of 1800 taller and stronger teenagers. Physically navigating the school would have been just as difficult as navigating a rigid and unforgiving curriculum. I could teach the teachers who were open to being taught, I could modify the curriculum myself, but what about those teachers who weren’t willing. In the end, being an advocate for our kids is about choosing what is best for them and the catchment school just wasn’t it.
Being an advocate means choosing our child’s confidence over our own pride.
So today, Ella will meet new friends. She will get to know the teachers who know how incredibly valuable, clever and wonderful different can be. The school Ella will attend this year is a school for girls with moderate to mild learning challenges. 150 students share state-of-the-art facilities: an award-winning swimming pool, brand new Fine Arts building, forest school, chickens and a vegetable garden.
Do I feel like a hypocrite? Yes, a little bit, but it was only my pride that would have enrolled Ella at the catchment school. I would have done it to prove a point but in this case, Ella is more important than my pride. I have spoken to other parents who have sent their girls to the specialised school. One parent, whose daughter has Down syndrome and is incredibly bright and articulate, said that it was her daughter’s choice to go. She was in mainstream school but the pressure was so intense that she chose to move schools. That’s the other problem with the three-tier system. There is so much pressure on our kids, too much pressure and I didn’t want that for Ella. I want her to be in a place she can thrive, not just survive.
So today, we choose confidence over pride.