Tag: school

School Refusal Is Far More Complex Than Just Truanting

On Thursday I was honoured to be asked to speak to a group of young people who, for one reason or another, are unable to attend school regularly. They meet in a brightly painted bungalow ominously named as home of ‘The Prevention Services’. There were five young people all facing very different issues to do with school- bullying, anger, frustration and fear being the main reasons for not regularly attending. This general anxiety surfaced in the form of long absences and sometimes exclusions.

Talking to the group was great. As someone who had a lot of trouble attending mainstream school because of intense anxiety I knew what I would have wanted to hear in their position. I told them that they may be terrified of school but they should never, ever, be terrified of learning. Hatred of school does not equal hatred of learning, and if you keep learning there is a way through the tangle of school refusal. I hope I was able to be of some use to them.

It was hard to imagine these bright, quirky and talkative young people not thriving in school. We talked about the problems in the school environment; it is too big, with too many people and holds too greater focus on discipline. One young person spoke about anger problems and how in mainstream teachers would rile up the situation more by using discipline rather than redirecting or calming down the rage. Since moving to a specialist unit this young person has access to these strategies and enjoys learning much more. Before the unit they had been excluded a dozen times. Not everyone’s anxiety showed through acting out and anger, for some it caused them to turn inwards- too scared to speak to anyone or walk through the gates.

The young people’s idea of an ideal school was surprisingly achievable. A more college-like setting where staff respected students and vice versa. They would want to be treated as individuals with different learning styles. The classes would be small and with more hands on practical learning. There would be more support because, to my surprise, some of the young people had made it to year 9 without knowing if there was any pastoral care in their school at all.

The project involves making an animated film in order to explain to professionals the miriad of reasons why a young person might not be attending school. This sounds like it couldn’t be more needed. We started styling objects out of plastercine. We made a foreboding looking school gate and a young person contributed a skull on a stick to place next to the gate. Across the table a young person made a plastercine noose. I saw how not attending school could be both a necessity and an agonising decision to make as they are intensely aware of the pressure it puts on their families. They feel immensely guilty and sad. At the end of the session taxis pulled up to take the young people back to their education providers. One young person who had pre-arranged to go home instead due to an injury went wide eyed:

“Is that taxi for me? I won’t go. I’m not going. I can’t.”

“They’ll kidnap me.”

School refusal and low attendance is not straight forward. These are not ‘bad kids’. They have anxiety, precarious home lives and aren’t equipped with strategies to get through. School adds steam to the pressure cooker. School refusal is far more complex than many would believe.

It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Journey- An Imaginary Parents Evening.

Today I managed to go on some unescorted leave. It was sunny and subsaharan on the unit because the heating seems to be permanently on full. To say I was desperate to get out is an understatement and in my rush of excitement to go outside I forgot that I don’t know the local area at all. So armed with a very tiny map that I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t read; off I went. A member of staff had marked onto the map in red felt tip a short and simple route to the church and back.

It turns out that there are two churches in the vicinity of the hospital-and of course I initially went to the wrong one which was in completely the wrong direction. I asked for directions from an elderly lady who, after telling me how brave I am for:
a) being blind
b) existing
told me to follow the road until I came across a ‘horsey smell’. Sadly she declined my request for conventional directions. So myself and Noodle stumbled around trying to follow our noses to a smell that never came.

It took about an hour for me to find myself stuck in the graveyard of the church I had initially been looking for. Unable to find my way out of said graveyard and no one live to ask for directions I stumbled into what I thought was a big green field. There appeared to be dogs running around so I let Noodle go for a frolic while I tried to work out where we were and how we could get back.

Splash. A shallow river made itself known and Noodle in all her wisdom decided to swim alongside me as I paced the bank. Still lost I asked a woman for directions to ‘the school’ -which would then point me in the right direction for the unit. She decided to walk me there instead.

“Is there anything on at the school?” She asked as we walked.
“Yeah…” I say accidentally, having just realised that we are at the wrong school and that I’m completely lost. Why did this village insist on having two of everything?
“What’s on?” She asked.
“Parents evening.” I responded. I really don’t know why but that was the first thought in my head. I knew instantly how stupid this sounded but felt too paralysed with awkwardness to do anything. I felt like I had dived into a shark tank of social tension.
“On a bank holiday?” She asked with a slight tone of disbelief, clearly thinking that I am deranged or mourning some imaginary child who attended this school.
I mumbled something along the lines of “yes isn’t it ridiculous” as I kicked myself silently for putting myself in this mess. She eventually left me at the derelict school.

I must have walked miles around the village today because I have never been so completely lost in my life. But I couldn’t have been happier.

My life is bonkers sometimes but I do completely love it. There are many things worse than being lost on a sunny day with my furry colleague. Even if she does decide to go for a dive. I really do need to work on the awkwardness thing though…

I suppose I could use a cheesy recovery quote at this point: “It’s not the destination it’s the journey” etcetera etcetera. But don’t worry. I won’t.

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Off His Trolley?

Some of you reading this will know that I set off to a residential college on friday. From friday onwards I will be living at college during term time. It is all very exciting, and there is a room downstairs currently dedicated to the boxes, bags and cases that will be used for the big move. My family is just as excited as I am but my Dad, being a chronic worrier, tends to go overkill at times like this. My packing currently consists of three (fairly light) plastic boxes, one large case with wheels and a few assorted bits and bobs. This is why I feel that what happened next was a little over the top.

Dad ordered a large industrial haulage trolley from the internet a few days ago because it will ‘help with carrying things’. Like any teenager I began to squirm. I don’t mind being different however being the girl with the father ferrying things around in a steel trolley worthy of british rail, wasn’t in the least bit desirable.

Yesterday was the due date for the trolley’s arrival. We waited in and surprisingly promptly there was a knock on the door and a large parcel.  The first saga to unfold (or not) was the box. It was a strange triangular shape and appeared to be welded to whatever was inside. Dad -in his enthusiastic state- then had to resort to tearing the box apart to reveal a large amount of shiny metal. The trolley was a large platform with a foldable handle- and I hated it already.

“How will you get it up the stairs?” I protested.
“There’s a lift.” Said Dad, not looking up from his new toy.
“What if someone using a wheelchair is moving in and needs to use the lift?” I retried. I got no response for this pretty weak argument.
“Can’t we just carry my stuff like the other families will be carrying theres?” I sighed. I really don’t want to stick out as odd the second I arrive at college.
“All the other parents will want one! They will be like: ‘Hey, who’s that guy with the trolley, we should get one like that.'” He responded- slipping into the half fantasy world where things like this are cool. I could tell that this would probably escalate quite quickly if I kept arguing. Looking at it despairingly once more I asked- “But where are the wheels?”

This was a good point. The bottom of the trolley seemed to be just smooth metal, with no sign of wheels what-so-ever. It looked as if it had been made as a solution for removal men in Greenland as a half sledge- half trolley. After some more rummaging we found the wheels hidden in the box. They had no instructions enclosed and as far as wheels went; these looked like they were made for the tricycles of the trolley world- rather than this huge delivery lorry.

With disappointed mutters he turned the trolley back to being the right way up. That’s when he noticed the tear. At the platform part of the trolley -where my relatively light bags would sit- there was a large gash through the middle. It looked as if it wouldn’t be able to carry my teacup, let alone a case. Sadly he packed it back into the torn box (with great difficulty) and organised for it to be sent back as faulty.

I can’t say I am sad at this loss and I am more inclined to dance with joy over the fortunate death of the trolley. As Dad doesn’t work as a porter, or a delivery man, I make the assumption that the trolley was unnecessary: though he argues it just isn’t as clear cut as that. I suppose we will only know who was right on friday…!

A humongous orange case carried by two struggling men