By Clare Jones
THERE are many ways to travel the 14km distance between Henley and Marlow. Driving is undoubtedly the most efficient, boating or cycling might be pleasant and even walking, with a few scheduled stops at various eateries, could have many plus points. But swimming, for nearly 9 miles, in the Thames?
Probably not the activity of choice for most, including me, but that is exactly what I found myself doing, early one Sunday morning in August.
If I had written my story in September 2017 rather than 2018, I suspect the tone would’ve been very different. Quite simply, at that point, my world was falling apart. My 9 year old son believed he was a failure. He didn’t smile much anymore, he got angry, his eyes were sad and his self-esteem was at an all-time low. We both desperately needed help.
To cut a very long story short, my son had been struggling for a long time, but I was optimistic. I finally had an EHCP in draft, ADHD medication had been prescribed and I was armed with a pile of reports from professionals all ready to support him at the start of the new school year. The Head was incredibly supportive, repeating “I’ve never given up on a child and I don’t intend to start now”. Unfortunately, the new term came complete with a new Head, who didn’t seem to share her predecessor’s view. My son was out within 4 weeks. “Voluntarily home-schooled” is how it is documented; a sadly unrecorded phone call might tell a very different story.
A particular low point came in the form of an email between the new Head and another executive Head from the same academy, I obtained it via a freedom of information request. It detailed how my son had been questioned about whether he really needed his prescribed ADHD medication (their view was he didn’t) and it went on to mock his future ambition to be a pilot. I didn’t have the words to describe this email then and I still don’t now.
So there I was, a single parent with a full time job, home schooling my son (badly) while desperately trying to find strategies for us both to cope with his ADHD. Thankfully, I managed to find him a new school within eight (very long) weeks, but mine is far from an isolated case. This week’s headline in our local Gazette details a 49% increase in home schooling within our borough since 2013. The majority of reasons are listed as “Parental Choice”, with no details of what factors led parents to make this decision. A quick search of the The Guardian archives returns pages of heart-breaking stories of children with SEND slipping through the system. They are our forgotten children.
I’m beyond relieved to say that in my case, if we fast forward to September 2018, my son is thriving; he is excited to go to school, excited to learn. He shows me his work, he talks about his teachers and his friends and the places he wants to go and what he wants to be. He feels wanted, he believes in himself, he is happy. Both our lives have changed beyond recognition. I wish at this point I could offer a magic spell or a pill or a one size fits all solution as to how we got here, but I am not sure I really know myself. I wish someone could’ve offered me that a year ago… but I think we all know it doesn’t exist. My journey was tough, and I have no doubt it will continue to be so. But what I can say with absolute clarity is that no one can take this journey alone. I have seen first-hand the difference the right environment, the right support, genuine understanding and compassion makes to a child and that is what made me jump into the Thames that day. That is what every child deserves.
The ADHD Foundation is a charity that does incredible work and part of their remit is to deliver training for teachers and parents on understanding and managing this condition. There are so many amazing teachers out there and I tilt my swimming hat to every single one of them… but there is no compulsory training for teachers on ADHD and the level of understanding and strategies to deal with this, can vary greatly. In fact, a report by the Foundation last year found “dangerous misconceptions” among some teaching staff and quite simply we must change this. My initial aim when I decided to swim was to raise enough money to send four teachers on a training course provided by the Foundation. I actually raised enough money to train three whole schools! All teachers, all teaching assistants, all catering and office staff from three local schools, two primary and one secondary will benefit from expert training covering topics such as teaching and learning strategies to improve academic attainment; behaviour management and mental health. I am incredibly proud to have made this happen and I genuinely believe this will make a huge difference to the lives of many children and their families affected by ADHD.
What surprised me most was the price of this training. The Foundation provides whole school training for £650 plus travel expenses. This is an incredibly realistic sponsorship target for anyone. Think of the difference this could make to your child or children in your local school. Think how this knowledge and expertise will benefit children for years and years to come. What a great legacy to leave at your school. How amazing would it be to roll out this training across the country? Maybe you won’t swim 14km, to be honest I don’t really recommend it, maybe you’ll climb Everest, do a sponsored walk or host a coffee morning. It doesn’t matter what you do, but please do something. We have a real opportunity to stop history repeating itself again and again. Education is the key. With the right support the potential for all our children is limitless.
I will continue to love, support and fight for my son with everything I have, just like we all do for our children. I will tell him every day that any ambition is achievable if he works hard. I would not change my son for anything in this world; but I would change his world. I’d change it for him and every other child who just need a little extra help, support and understanding. Stand with me. Change their world. #Trainourteachers
If you would like to get the training in your school this is the contact.
National Training Director
0151 237 2661