Why is there always a battle needed to be fought?
By Jessie Joseph – Intern with Really Useful Stuff
As part of my role with RUS I will be posting some of my own experiences as a young disabled person, sharing my thoughts, frustrations and aspirations with you. Please do comment and share back with me. This week I talk about my experiences with inclusive education.
My experience of education has been very mixed, with some of my experiences being directly affected by my disability and the limitations that it brings in other people’s eyes.
I started off my education in a mainstream primary school which my mother had to battle for me to attend, as the councils department of education wanted me to go to a local school for special educational needs.
In the beginning!
The first day I arrived with all my various mobility aids and this did not affect how I was treated by my peers, at that young age I felt acceptance, I was not perceived differently by the other members of my class, being able to participate in activities in the class and playground the same as everyone else. My mobility frame added a different dynamic to the playground and was viewed as an exciting and versatile form of transport for all, leading to great forms of creative play.
Health and Safety – A bizarre argument
As time progressed teachers began to change their attitude towards me, questioning my academic ability, not challenging my intellect, being very doubtful of my capabilities, therefore would speak to me in a patronizing way and this attitude and changed behaviour was soon adopted by my peers. It was reflected in both the way they spoke to me, and also the amount of interaction I had with them, increasingly making me feel isolated, confused, and school became a different arena . It seems as if the teachers thought that because I had a physical disability, I was also unable to communicate successfully and this was not the case, the work set for me was not differentiated and I was not given the same opportunities as other people in my class due to my disability.
In the second year at primary school, the aspect of my ‘health and safety’ requirements was addressed within a Local Educational Authority meeting with the school and my Mother. I was allocated a Learning Support Assistant (LSA), which meant they were with me all throughout the day in order to help with teaching, learning and health and safety around the school.
However this had a very negative and detrimental effect on my school experience, as I was unable to fully interact with my peers because they thought of me as ‘weird’ as I was always with an adult, this made me unapproachable and my isolation was accentuated. The role of the LSA was primarily health and safety and the restrictions this brought were over whelming, no longer could my frames and standing frames be a stimulus for games or an introductory ‘vehicle’ for communication, they became a hazard, burden, risk assessment material and segregation equipment.
Throughout my time at Primary school I was very lonely as I was unable to connect with people, I felt isolated, friendless and now I am older and can reflect on my experience, I had spent my time primarily with adults, through no choice of my own. When I left my hope was to have a new start within the Secondary school my Mother once again had to battle to gain me a place within.
Access due to health and safety and movement around the school had been a point of contention, no adjustments were made to the school in the five years I attended. When starting secondary school I was placed into the Integrated Learning Group (ILG) and this was not suitable for my needs, the learning was tailored towards people with learning difficulties, which I do not have, therefore my first academic year was wasted, as Primary level work was re-visited and I was not challenged intellectually in any direction.
It took many battles with the senior management team, and extensive meetings with the school’s SENCO together with the LEA in order for me to have the situation changed, and convince them that I was only physically disabled and did not have any learning difficulties. After many meetings I was moved to a standard class room setting, but still placed with what the school classed as the ‘lower ability’ students. I was still not challenged by the teacher, it was very apparent, without the use of words, that they were focused on my physical disability which somehow made them come to the conclusion that my academic ability would be impaired.
Yet again, I was experiencing similar behaviour from the large set of Secondary teachers I was taught by, using patronizing tone, much the same as primary school, and treating me as if I was less able to achieve than other students. I spoke out about my feeling but nothing was addressed, so much for a new and fresh start, the same battles remained, just a different but more muddy and trench filled battle field! However, this situation worsened still further as my physicality deteriorated and even though this was addressed at various meetings between my Mother and the school this continued throughout my entire time at secondary school, teachers viewed by lack of ability to walk at all by this stage to equate to a lack of academic ability as well…strange way of thinking from a professional body of people who should be role models.
My LSA from primary school followed me to secondary school and this was not suitable as she still treated me like a child and I was unable to interact with new people or show people my full personality as I was yet again deemed as unapproachable by my peers. My independence was also taken away from me with my LSA being so constant, which is so important to any explorative teenager, it lead to a lot of feelings of frustration and isolation. She continued to support me until year 9, where it was decided that I no longer needed any support in lessons, it took me a long time to be ‘heard’, but I managed to at last, make the senior management of the school and LEA listen to me.
Inclusive education. Why is there always a battle needed to be fought?
A question I have asked myself over the years in so many situations. In year nine we had to choose our options for GCSE to continue to the next year, in which I wanted to do academic subjects in order to prepare for my future goals, but the school tried to pressurise me to study the subjects which they thought ‘easier’ to obtain a good grade. I was questioned many times about my choice to do dance as a subject, with many of the senior management actual laughed at, and upon entering the class to observe my progress asked questions such as, What are you doing in this class?, Why are you here?, What can you do in the class? . This made me determined to get the best grades possible in all my subjects and to succeed.
In 2014, the Secondary School had a new build and this caused many problems for me. For example, I was unable to use the newly installed lift because they had placed a lock on it and I was not allowed to have a key card to open it. The lift was installed because of the disability discrimination act to allow everyone to be able to access all parts of the building; I had to struggle with the stairs. This made me late for classes, teachers then reprimanded me, just more unnecessary difficulties and unpleasantness added to my day .
The access arrangements to the whole building were never addressed, my timetabled lessons and the rooms allocated were never differentiated or adapted, even though this could easily have been done with no changes to my curriculum. The ICT rooms were exceptionally hard to reach, many corridors to walk and stairs to climb, I was always late, missing important initial input for my lesson, but also arriving feeling embarrassed, exhausted, frustrated and sad.
There was also no plan of action in place for me if there was ever a fire and on numerous occasions I had to be carried down the stairs and out of the building by the Deputy Head teacher at the school and sometimes even other students. This was not only embarrassing for me as it highlighted my disability to the other students, it was also took away my independence and was very inappropriate to rely on others to carry me during a fire dill. Of course sometime it was hilarious, almost ridiculous, especially in the rain and being carried across the mud of the sports field with people slipping and sliding with me, oh those health and safety issues or another battle field?
I still want to wear heals and ride horses
Last year in September, I started a Media course at College. I was excited to have achieved good grades in all my GCSE’s to enable me to enter the higher level of the course and one that I had focused on. It again, was meant to be a new start to me and I am pleased to say I have made friends, but similar problem have raised their ugly heads. In practical tasks there is no differentiation and lecturer finding the requirements of setting alternative task an extra burden of work for them!
Access arrangements to the Media Block were not discussed and at the start of the course I could not get to the building due to an actual hill I need to hike up. Obviously a student wanting to make an impression at the start of anything new, especially a new course, had worn her heels!
I have managed for the first time to come out of my shell a little and my disability does not seem to be an issue with the other creative students I spend my study time with. I can express my own sense of fashion, be independent, discuss my passions, aspirations, and interests and of course (at 4’ 10” – all good things come in small packages) keep wearing my heels!