Moving during the summer break, to a completely different county, made finding available education options akin to throwing darts blindfolded.
I figured as R had struggled at secondary school, having ADHD and being dyslexic, and being in a new area, he would probably do best on a level 1 access type course while we settled in and found our feet. Hull college had no spaces left this late in the application stage, so I looked further afield. The next suitable college that came up, was in Beverley. Nearly 35 miles from Easington. An hours drive. My heart sank. Looked like I was gonna be doing a LOT of driving. An hour there, an hour back, twice a day. 4 hours driving, every day.
I'd looked at the tiny primary school in the village, Easington had a population of just over 800, equal to about half the population of my sons previous secondary school, and the little school there had 3 or 4 classes, with mixed age groups. While it was quaint and really quite cute, my boys had significant complex needs, and I doubted this school even had an employed SENDCO. Plus K was still traumatised by the restraints in Netherfield school and he really wasn't keen on school, so I decided to home educate B and K. But if we were driving 4 hours a day, how would I fit in any home education? I had to get creative. Education didn't have to be sat at desks with pens and paper. We could do things in the car, while driving.
I filled in the application form for R to get into East Riding college, Beverley, and searched the area for a school for D.
D had coped really well with his first year at Djanogly in Nottingham. Djanogly wasn't in our catchment area, it was across town, but I chose the school specifically for it's high percentage of ESL students (English as a Second Language). I thought the additional English support in the school would be beneficial for his dyslexia, and I was vindicated in my decision when he thrived there. Due to other students being from other countries and needing high levels of support with their English, D's struggles went unnoticed, and he loved feeling like a 'normal' kid.
He was confident and keen to start a new school after his experiences, so I searched for one close to R's college in Beverley. On the same road as the college, further up, was Longcroft School. It was smaller than the schools in Nottingham, but big enough to have appropriate support and resources. I checked with D, and he liked the look of it. He also liked that it was just up the road from R. "We could meet at lunch times" I didn't want to disappoint him, but I doubted he would be allowed off site. Plus 'up the road' was still quite a distance, it was a long road. "Mmm maybe"
We needed to see these schools, so after making appointments, we set off for Beverley, to find East Riding college, and Longcroft school.
At East Riding college, we met a woman called Leeane. We'd been in Easington for 6 weeks by this point, and we'd had no contact from any professionals about the protection conference in June, or the proposed CIN plans. I'd spent the past 6 weeks telling people that 'I wasn't running away from anything, we were making a new life by the sea'. It helped that our new home was twice the size of our Nottingham house, and we were by the sea. It certainly looked like a new start, it sounded plausible.
But as the weeks passed without any further interference, I felt vindicated about leaving. Seems it WAS all a set up. Surely if my kids were at risk in my care, we'd have seen someone with a badge by now? Social worker, police, someone would have come knocking, I left a forwarding address?
Leeane was lovely, and I warmed to her immediately. I explained we were new to the area, my boys had disabilities, went through the whole 'moved to start a new life' rhetoric, and as soon as I mentioned ADHD and dyslexia, Leeane lit up. These were conditions she more than understood, and she engaged easily with R. Her experience and understanding were enough for me to open up, I explained about the conference, how I believed it was set up, how we didn't really want to leave Nottingham but I felt we had no choice. Leeane was amazing, without judgement or doubt she listened to our story, and expressed her sympathy. She told me not to worry about R, that she would personally look out for him in college, and if I needed anything just to contact her and she would try to help. I was elated. Once again Yorkshire people had shown us love, people were so friendly here I thought, R now had a place in college on a basic level 1 course, with support. I felt like a boss mum, I was sorting this.
We went to Longcroft School, and D was enrolled. A quick trip into Beverley Town centre, and £80 down, D had a new uniform. He was looking forward to his new school. Mum was bossing this move.
I'd put together some educational activities for the car, and bought a singalong CD of times tables. As I write this, I can still hear "1 times 2 is 2, 2 times 2 is 4, 3 times..." in my head, I sang along with the whole song and tried to encourage the boys,
"1 times 2 is 2, (come on D, sing) , 2 times 2 is 4, (the next numbers 3), 3 times 2 is.."
We also had 'spot the .......' games, so they would be counting coloured cars, lorries, bikes etc to chart later on. Or we would look for road signs and announce their meaning, learning about distance and the difference between A-roads, residential streets and motorways.
We also had 'what would I do' sessions, where I would present them with a social situation with a moral dilemma and we would discuss how we might respond.
Dropping R and D off in Beverley, I'd head home to complete some more formal education with B and K. The logistics of all this seems mind boggling for one person, but I thrived on multitasking, and education is my forte, so I was enjoying the hectic schedule. I felt stronger than I had in months.
A few days into the first school week, just as I arrived back home in Easington, the phone rang. It was Longcroft. D had left school grounds and they didn't know where he was.
They didn't know where he was? This was the school I'd made VERY aware of my boys vulnerability, and they didn't know where he was?? Panic gripped me.
"I'm 35 miles away!" Mentally, I was already preparing to drive straight back, today's home education out the window.
"We can't find him, so we're assuming he's left the site"
"I'm on my way"
I bundled B and K back in the car, and belted off back to Beverley. I rang Leeane at college,
"Sorry Leeane but can you get a message to R, can you tell him his brother D has left Longcroft grounds, and he might be heading down to him".
I was really worried. Thoughts of him being snatched by social services were eating away at me, I knew I shouldn't have put him in school, I knew this would happen. I desperately tried to focus on driving. I rang Longcroft,
"Have you found him?"
"No, he's not on school grounds"
"I'm on my way"
I assumed there would be people looking for my son, but there wasn't. I pulled into the car park and raced into school.
"Oh, D is here after all"
"Sorry, WHAT?" I was sweating, shaking, on the verge of tears.
"Yes, it turns out he had gone to the wrong classroom"
"Are you serious? I've driven 35 miles back here because you said my son was missing from school. And he was here all the time?" I was fuming, but held myself. I didn't want another confrontational relationship with a school. I took a breath, and tried to compose myself.
"Sorry about that. He appeared in his next lesson after break"
I wanted to scream, how did you not know he was in another classroom? How did that teacher not notice they had a random unknown student in their class? Where was the schools safeguarding? How the hell did he just go to the wrong classroom?
I had a hundred questions, but I held back. This was our new start. I had to change my confrontational ways.
I made my excuses and left. It was coming up for lunchtime, by the time I got back to Easington we'd only have about an hour before we'd have to head back to pick up R. Marvellous.
The following week, I think on the Tuesday, I received another call from Longcroft before midday. D was being obstinate and difficult. He was sitting under a tree in the school car park and refusing to move. He was telling staff to 'ring his mum'. This is exactly what I'd told the boys to do, if they felt unsafe at school. The hairs on my neck prickled. My heart skipped a beat.
"I'm on my way"
I jumped in the car and raced over. Twice in 2 weeks wasn't a great start, but I should expect a few teething troubles. I arrived at school and there D sat, hugging his knees under a tree. I ran over to him arms outstretched,
"Come baby, I'm here, what's happening?"
He wasn't happy, the school had arranged additional support in his classroom for him, but it was blatantly obvious it was FOR HIM. He felt like the special kid again, singled out, and he wasn't happy. And I didn't blame him one bit. I told him to get in the car with his brothers, and I went over to explain the situation to school staff,
"I'll take him home with me, sorry about this. See you in the morning" I held my anger, no confrontation I reminded myself, what happened in Nottingham was not this school's fault. I tried to act nonchalant, it was just a glitch, a stumble, things will be ok. I don't know who I was trying to convince, me, or them.
D was moody and upset. School wasn't like Djanogly and he didn't like it. I urged him to try again,
"Look, if you really don't like school, I can fit you in to home education with B and K, it's not a problem. But if you want to make friends you might have to stick it out"
D was always more gregarious than B and K, so he reluctantly agreed to try again. Friendships were important to him. I felt proud of his resilience.
On Friday the same week, D's 9th day at Longcroft, I get another phone call. My heart sinks.
"D has left school grounds. He's in sight, but off the school site itself"
"What's gone off now?" I was getting pissed off now, the school knew my son had additional needs, they knew I was 35 miles away, calling me in was a 70 mile round trip,
"D has sworn at his Spanish teacher after being given a detention for not doing his homework, so we've tried to put him in isolation but he won't go. He just keeps saying 'ring my mum'. This behaviour is just not acceptable here. We need to talk to you"
Oh we're gonna go there are we? I popped,
"NOT ACCEPTABLE?? YOU ARE FULLY AWARE MY SON HAS COMPLEX ADDITIONAL NEEDS, AND THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOUVE CALLED ME BACK TO SCHOOL, IN 2 WEEKS! WHY CAN YOU NOT KEEP MY VULNERABLE SON SAFE? THAT, IS WHATS NOT ACCEPTABLE! IM ON MY WAY" I barked down the phone. I'd tried, but confrontation was coming now, big time. Mama bear was raging.
I arrived at school to find D in the car park, under that same tree, his little sad face caused a lump in my throat. I swallowed it down. Now was not the time for crying. Ignoring the male staff member trying to get my attention, I threw my arms open and hugged my boy,
"I'm taking you home, but first you need to apologise for swearing" his face crumpled, and he looked at me nervously,
"Listen, I'm on your side, trust me. You're coming home with us, but first you need to do the right thing, and apologise for swearing"
Head bent down, he followed me as I strode purposefully towards the heads office.
"D, apologise for swearing please"
"Sorry" He mumbled, head down.
"Now go stand outside this door while mum has a word with the head"
I waited until the door clicked shut, and I let him have it. "How dare you try to punish my boy over homework" I growled, "Spanish homework? Were you aware in his previous school they taught MANDARIN? How much Chinese do you know sir? Could you complete any mandarin homework? My boy could. He'd smash you at mandarin. So you were going to punish him for not doing homework on a subject he has never studied and knows NOTHING ABOUT?" Once the cork had popped, I couldn't stop.
I verbally tore into him, about phoning me 3 times in 2 weeks over trivial issues that stemmed from their obvious lack of support, how they had embarrassed my son, made him feel unwelcome knowing he had moved here from another area. The word 'failed' being repeated, about support, safety, the school as a whole.
The head then stated that, as a result of his behaviour, D would now be subject to a half-day exclusion. That was it for me. You callous bastards.
"Keep your exclusion, your school is a joke, I'll have a deregistration letter on your desk Monday morning, you won't see D again"
It felt like dejavu. But what choice did I have? I couldn't let them keep interrupting my home education with B and K, this wasn't fair or sustainable. So I added D to my curriculum planning, and adjusted accordingly. I encouraged the boys to play out in the village, to meet the local kids.
On Monday morning, as promised, I hand delivered a letter of deregistration to Longcroft reception. Along with a carrier bag stuffed with all D's new uniform, his rugby top still having the labels attached.
"I'd like to donate D's uniform to the school, it's brand new. If anyone can make use of it" it served me no purpose anymore, and I wanted to appear reasonable.
But Longcroft instead, reported us to East Riding social services...