on Tuesday, me and my friend(/ex) are going back to the school where we met for a photography session. I have very mixed feelings about the place. on the one hand, Sel-by is awesome, on the other....
it was (and still is) an all girls special school in rural surrey, part boarding, part day pupil. it's a beautiful place, the main building is an old manor house (although much smaller than any national trust place I've seen) with a long, winding drive and large grounds. it has a small swimming pool and when we were there the head of care kept her ponies in a paddock by the gates. the original stables were converted to provide an IT suite and fully equipped DT workshops. I remember all of this, but it's tainted. I remember the place as though it's appearance were a mocking euphemism for it's true nature.
there are many reasons why someone might have difficulty navigating the educational system. we often assign values to these, which is a shitty thing to do. as a society, we often like to think of people in need as "deserving" and "undeserving". if you work in special education, kindly shove ideas like that up your arse from whence they came. ok, back to my point; why do people end up in special schools?
well, maybe they don't understand the lesson. maybe the concept of fractions is just too complicated.
or maybe it's illiteracy? maybe they get why historical event A lead to historical event B in class discussions, but struggle because they can't read the text book.
yet more students may struggle with writing speed, or loose a significant amount of the school term because they needed to have surgery.
these are the "deserving" issues. the staff accept that they exist and make every effort to help. their attitude tends to be highly patronising, but at least they don't tell you it's your fault. but what about the "undeserving"?
they're harder to list. not more or less serious or real, just harder to describe.
I have been both a "deserving" and "undeserving" special child. I always understood the concept of the lesson, but didn't read until I was 9 years old, and at age 11 could barely write fast enough to get the title & aim of the lesson before the hour was up and I had to move on to the next class. if you don't believe the deserving/undeserving crap exists in this context, why would I feel the need to mention the time when I was considered worthy of real help?
because I was mainstream educated until the age of 14, and with support was in top or middle sets for most subjects. when I moved to a special school, my academic needs were not the issue.
I had (almost) no friends. there were literally 2 people in my year I could talk to and that was it. I don't mean I got on better with other age groups, I mean that.was.it. I also really struggled with organisation.
the no friends thing meant constant verbal abuse (or maybe the causal link was the other way round, or they were both caused by me "not fitting in". I don't give a shit), and the organisation thing meant I basically didn't do homework because I had no idea what had to be done when, let alone where that piece of paper was. to my frazzled mind, a new school with only 50 pupils sounded like a great idea.
I didn't do my homework at the new school either. I wasn't the only one, but I was the only one who didn't tick a single "deserves help" box. there were after school activities. I was banned from them unless I'd done ALL my homework for the past week. that was the only form of "help" available for my organisational issues. I could forgive them if it were the school policy, but it wasn't. even with a dyspraxia diagnosis, organisational difficulties were dismissed as "laziness".
I have a vivid memory of standing in the lunch queue. one of the staff approaches and asks me for money I don't have. it's the £7 weekly lunch money I should have brought in on monday. I have no where to write down a reminder. I don't even have a pen. I have another 2 hours of lessons and a 20 minute journey home before I can ask mum for the money, and the chances of me still remembering that I need to do this at the end of the lunch break are approximately zero. I don't have a phone, but if I did I wouldn't be allowed to use it anyway. I've said sorry, I forgot. I really am sorry. there is no privacy because everyone else is waiting for lunch. she wants to know if I think I can get food from shops if I "forget" my money. where do I think this food came from? do I think everyone else should pay for me? do I expect special treatment?
YES. yes, I expect "special treatment". otherwise what's the point of a "special school"? I want to be taught coping strategies and skills that will one day allow me to live independently and define my own success.
but I didn't have those words then, and I'm not sure I'll have them on tuesday. and I know it's all or nothing because if I try and fail to make my point I'm just "ungrateful". again.