School Stories are a series of tales from parents and others involved in the school system, highlighting some of the joys and difficulties encountered while trying to get our children educated.
My introduction to Educate Together came almost 7 years ago when I nervously met for the first time with the Principal of the Educate Together primary school that my son subsequently began to attend.
I was nervous, because my son has Prader-Willi syndrome (a rare chromosomal disorder that typically results in physical, behavioural and emotional challenges), and I was unsure how accommodating the school would be. Frankly, I was unsure whether the school would accept him at all given the nature of his needs.
Of course I knew that equality and being child-centred lay at the heart of the Educate Together ethos, but I was nonetheless sceptical as to whether these lofty principles would translate into everyday practice. Were they mere rhetoric or would they really mean that a school would be willing to make significant changes to accommodate a single child?
I left that meeting feeling elated and fully convinced that the school would not only accept my son, but that the staff in it would do everything in its power to ensure it met his needs. 7 years on, my son attends 5th class in the same school and I am more convinced than ever that he has benefited enormously from attending an Educate Together.
In a way, my family’s experience in an Educate Together school has shown us what equality could look like. Outside of the school environment there have been multiple battles and disappointments in the years since my son was born. I have struggled to access appropriate services, to secure state supports, and even to find accessible extracurricular activities. Much of the advocacy that I engage in on behalf of my son is necessary because there is no culture of equality in much of society. Yet within my son’s school I have never experienced a problem. My son needs have been met and my expectations have been surpassed again and again.
The most recent Whole School Evaluation report conducted in my son’s school concluded that “the school’s approach to the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs is outstanding” . It also declared that “the school ethos is very conducive to catering for pupils with learning difficulties and special educational needs”.
I am neither so arrogant to assume that a child with complex needs could not have a positive experience in a non-Educate Together school, nor so niave to believe that every Educate Together school is so successful at operationalising the Educate Together principles as the school that my son attends. However, I am fully convinced that the emphasis on equality and being child-centred in the Educate Together ethos are beneficial for all children.
In fact, the biggest lesson I have learnt from my dealings with Educate Together is not that Educate Together schools are particularly effective at catering for children with special educational needs, but rather that the ethos underpinning Educate Together schools helps make them particularly effectively at catering for ALL children.
When my son started school he may have been the only child in his class with a defined diagnosis and a complex medical history. However, his classmates (and in later years his sister) also all turned up with unique personalities, needs, interests and learning styles. I am firmly of the view that the emphasis on equality and being child-centred that permeates the school environment is as important for these children as it has been for my son.
Now, with less than 2 years to go until my son requires a place in a second-level school, I find myself again nervously attending meetings with school principals. My son currently has no prospect of securing a place in an equality-based or multi-denominational second-level school.
And so I find myself wondering, is this it? Will my son have been given a taste of equality only for it to be taken away from him now?
Galway needs an Educate Together second-level school.
Have your own story? Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. While we cannot guarantee that we will publish every item received, we will publish as many as possible. You don’t have to be a blogger or an experienced writer to participate, just someone who shares our objective of an Educate Together second-level school in Galway.