Moving on to Secondary School

One parent’s perspective….

Starting Secondary School can be a huge transition for most children and it can be even more problematic with a child with a limb difference. 

Oliver is the youngest of my four children so I’m not a rookie when it comes to this transition however I have to admit to being a little more apprehensive with him.

We are lucky in our area to have several very good schools that we could apply to. I spoke to the Education Department and they assured me that if we found a school that seemed to fit Ollie better than the others that his condition would be taken into account.

My first step was to visit three different schools, it really came down to two of them but I wanted to get a very clear picture of the benefits and shortfalls of each school. My experience was extremely positive. I initially visited them by myself and spoke at length, bringing up all the problems I could possibly imagine – most of them will probably never happen.

Once I found the school that I felt was the best fit, we applied for it as our first choice. Once we had a place there, Ollie and I went to visit the school, not on an Open Day but by ourselves. This gave Oliver a chance to see how it would feel to be at school, he met the nurse and the pastoral care team.

Before he started school I put several things into place:

  • I printed out a description of Ollie’s congenital condition. PFFD does not mean much to the average teacher or member of staff. I shared this print out with all the main members of staff who would have contact with Ollie.
  • Ollie was given a time-out card. This meant that if he was uncomfortable sitting down he could leave the classroom and have a little walk. It also meant he could leave the lesson and arrive a few minutes late – so as to avoid the rush in between lessons.
  • We identified where the lift was and how it could be used.
  • He was given permission to chill out in the library if he was feeling tired.
  • I met with his Head of Year and explained that Ollie’s condition can be very unpredictable and even though he may be running around one day, the next he may be in pain – I wanted to make it clear that there was no consistency to his ability day-to-day.
  • I spoke to the Attendance Officer, highlighting that he would have to take time off school for hospital and Limb Centre visits, but also to remember that his attendance percentage was not a priority to me and that sometimes he gets tummy aches and bugs like any other child. I made it very clear that he would flag up on their system and I requested that we didn’t receive letters and phone calls about this – we knew the situation but there was little we could do about it.

So Ollie went off to Secondary School with me feeling that I had done everything I possibly could and on the whole it’s been a successful transition. However, I have learnt a few things that may be helpful for me to share:

  • I hadn’t considered how much walking is involved in Secondary School, it’s a big place and lessons can be held at opposite end of the building. Ollie found it much more tiring than I had expected. He was so tired by the time he came home he would often fall asleep before dinner and not wake up until the morning.
  • The older children at school were amazing and continue to be kind and supportive. I say with a huge sigh of relief. There was a little bit of bullying from children in his year but he seemed to take that in his stride and on the whole I tried to stand back and let him sort things out himself. That was hard and the jury’s still out on whether that was the right thing to do.
  • P.E. lessons were hit and miss. He enjoys being active but there were some days that his leg was hurting or he had a sore. One teacher didn’t seem to understand that Ollie’s abilities changed on different days and we had quite a horrible experience when Ollie was made to run around the school field with a sore on his leg – he was in a huge amount of pain. We have sorted that out now and the school agree to Ollie making the choice of whether he is going to take part in P.E or not. I wish that we had put that in place at the beginning.
  • Homework has sometimes been a challenge. Especially when he first started Secondary School – mainly because he was exhausted. I had a meeting with school and they suggested that if homework was due and hadn’t been done due to his leg or being exhausted, I could email or write a note. This took a lot of pressure off.
  • We spoke to our Limb Centre and the counsellor and TA came on a visit to the school. I felt this helped the school to feel there was support and we were able to make a few small adaptions to Ollie’s day – I think these suggestions worked better as they came from a health professional rather than from a parent.
  • Ollie does use a wheelchair at school and they have been very supportive of that. I generally leave the wheelchair at school – just a quick note here, it took us over 10 months to get Ollie a wheelchair – I wish we had got one earlier!
  • Mornings are always a challenge and I get it! Putting a prosthetic leg in the morning must be a hassle. Ollie was getting into trouble for being late and then if he was late he didn’t want to go – it became a vicious circle! I spoke to school and we came to an agreement that if he was late he wouldn’t get a late mark unless I emailed to say there was a reason other than his leg that made him late – such as not wanting to get out of bed. The minute we put this in place it broke the cycle and we are very rarely late now.
  • As your child becomes a teenager they want to have more control over their lives. We have developed a parent/young person relationship that is based on trust. School have been very supportive but I think that is mainly down to communicating with them. Surprisingly Ollie has rarely taken advantage of his time-out card or being allowed to be late in the morning. He recognises that his trusted and steps up to the mark – on most occasions!

Remember that the school are on a steep learning curve. Ultimately they want your child to be happy, a happy child is far easier to teach. Communicate with the school and let them know if your child is having a problem.

So we have completed our first year of Secondary School – only four to go and we are fairly unscathed. One trip to Belgium with the school, a couple of days out and even a sports day and somehow we are still smiling!

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