Coping with school rejection is sadly an experience that many SEND families find themselves in – and as a parent, of a child, whose had numerous placement failures, I feel confident enough to have some thoughts on the subject.
I can reflect on how those moments have been handled and the differences they have on the child. By sharing these experiences my only goal is to speak to schools and educate them on the impact this has on families and how there may be less damaging ways to handle it.
I have to take you back to 2017 to chart our second placement and when we realised that my daughter was not fitting in with the systematically-driven rules of the school environment.
She was in year one and was still heavily reliant on a wonderful reception teacher who had taught her the year previously. This member of staff was kind, sweet and nurturing (the fact that she was young and attractive was also a big pull for my daughter who looked up to her like a Disney-inspired teaching princess).
With a senior leadership team who saw my child as far too challenging to make adjustments for, they encouraged me to off-roll her for home education, or to take an offer for a pupil referral unit so they could have some respite from her. When neither of those options were taken, they built enough evidence with formal and informal exclusions enough to validate what they felt was evidence for a rejection from the school.
My daughter, aged six, was prohibited from returning back into school grounds for many months until that decision was overturned. She was reminded of being banned every day as she sat at home whilst her sister was ferried backwards and forwards to the same school.
As the weeks passed and it was end of term, my child wanted to take part in giving teachers their termly prizes, but she was not allowed.
She sobbed and kicked until her tears ran dry.
In her hand was a small heart trinket she had crafted for her old reception teacher. That day we got as far as the gate and I took it on those last few steps on her behalf.
She was a prisoner and an outcast for being rejected from school, it took a lot of work at home to move past that anger, only to experience repeated rejections in the years to follow.
Jumping forward to 2019 and we came to the end of another placement at a more-inclusive primary school, who handled the experience far better.
From the moment we realised that my daughter was no longer coping there, the senior leadership team deployed their staff to our home for many months, ensuring those relationships were not severed and giving my daughter the branch to the outside world.
For now, we shall call it The Jupiter Model, because I feel that it was a step away from the static path other schools would go down. This SLT had a clear vision of the future and making every child count. It felt hard to leave that school because no matter what happened, we felt part of a community, however that looked.
This experience did not carry with it as much of a traumatic journey; my daughter knew those children and staff still existed and the closure was never abruptly handled.
Fast forward to present time and we are back to facing another school rejection – only this time we are repeating our earlier experiences.
Every day my child asks me will she see her friends again? She worries that I won’t be able to make contact with their parents and they will disappear into the abyss like her relationships have done in the past. Then she cries as she talks about the teachers she connected with and who were building her trust and impacting her wellbeing.
With every rejection and failure comes the big task to dig even deeper in our depleted stores of resilience to bounce back.
My daughter has now disengaged from life and has found the sanctuary of her bedroom the place she prefers to stay. It is safe, controlled and without the fear of feeling rejected once again.
As a parent I can only tell our story and give as many people as possible the details of what it is like to experience a placement failure (or sadly, multiple ones, as in our situation which has happened). Accumulated school traumatic now adds extra weight to the initial challenges my daughter has with her neurodivergent way of interpreting the world.
But we are just one story in a sea of tales around school breakdowns. A single case that becomes swept under the carpet whilst we rally to put plasters over our broken emotions.
Lessons can be learnt and it would be better for families like ours if there were more educational placements who could think outside of the box and take the Jupiter way.
And then there is the bigger question past that – do children need to experience trauma from school if they just can’t fit?