INCLUSION, WHAT INCLUSION?

I was at a meeting about Transition Year at my son’s school last night. But of course not all of you will know what that means, so it’s definition time again…

Transition Year is the Irish education system’s answer to the Gap Year except it takes place between the two sets of state exams during the secondary school years. It’s a bit like Marmite, some love it, some hate it, and that’s just the parents.

It’s also compulsory at my son’s school, and there was a lot of interest in the meeting. This isn’t a fancy well-equipped school in a leafy suburb, it’s in the inner city and caters mainly for teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds. But it does not resemble the typical media portrayal of inner city schools. They mostly seem to feature disinterested parents, exhausted teachers and feral teenagers. My son’s school couldn’t be more different. and last night the room was packed with parents and their children; extra chairs were pushed into every corner to accommodate all the people who turned up. The teachers are mostly young, and they are all enthusiastic and passionate about education and committed to getting the best out of the boys in their care. As for the boys, well I defy you not to be impressed. Despite many of them living in very difficult circumstances, they were all well turned out for the meeting: nicely dressed, clean shaven, smart hair cuts.  They sat quietly and attended to the presentations. They didn’t interrupt, but asked intelligent questions at the end about the plans for year, which include studying more than 30 subjects, project work, a mini company, weekly work experience and career guidance, and a national award scheme that includes community work and sport.

If any of this this sounds patronising, I apologise. I’m just trying to show how the education system in Ireland does succeed and does make a difference, even in those schools that fall beneath the radar and don’t appear in the league tables.

So why does the education system keep failing those on the autism spectrum, even schools like the one my son attends that are supposed to cater for them?

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CHERISHING ALL THE CHILDREN AND THE 1916 CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

We were late to the party, and it was only in the last week that I heard about the big Dublin Parade for the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising. I should have planned in advance, but I was a wee bit busy with other things, and the morning did not go quite to plan.

Despite that, Smiley had a great time soaking up the atmosphere, and she made it her mission to spread joy and happiness on the streets of Dublin. But we couldn’t see anything or get anywhere near the disabled viewing spots, there were barriers to cars and people in every direction. So we gave up and went for coffee instead. Only to find out later from the TV coverage that many people with disabilities were allowed to watch from in front of the barriers. But no-one suggested that to us. It was all a bit frustrating.

And I was reminded of the words of the proclamation about cherishing all the nation’s children, and of the real life barriers that prevent that happening for so many children, eloquently expressed this morning by my friend Grainne from AsIAm.

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ALTERNATIVES TO SCHOOL FOR TEENAGERS

It’s a new year, a new term, and for many families, another round of school refusal. You have desperate parents, miserable teens, and an education system that seems to want school refusers to disappear. And sometimes that’s the answer. When every option has been tried and school is still not working, sometimes parents, teachers and teenagers have to make the decision to do something else.

In Ireland it is mandatory for children to receive an education up to age 16 or after taking the Junior Cert State Examinations, whichever is later. But there are options for teenagers who leave school earlier and here are some links to explore:

 

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WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT SCHOOL REFUSAL

Did that title get your attention? I hope so*. Because the thing about school refusal is that most people don’t see it coming. It’s diagnosed in retrospect, after a pattern of not going to school has been established. No-one seems to realise that it’s affecting your child until it’s become a habit.

A habit that can be very very hard to break.

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THE LUNAJACK WALK

So Lunajack is not one of those villages with a crazy name, no it’s a way of walking. A style that owes a lot to two of this family’s favourite film characters. And my son and I were doing lots of lunajack walking today as we stepped and stumbled, swayed and slid over the rocks around the headland at Rush in North County Dublin, where I brought him to do a little gentle home educating. Except it was quite strenuous, as my calves could tell you. The reason for the rock scramble was that we spotted a Martello tower and my son wanted to visit it. But we couldn’t find an entrance from the road, so we decided to try and gain access from the beach.

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How to tackle school refusal

You get a sick feeling when the alarm goes off on Monday morning.  It’s not the first alarm, the one that has you crawling out of bed.  No, this is the reminder to wake your child for school.  The child who doesn’t really want to go.  You climb the stairs, take a deep breath, and enter.  Using a calm and positive voice you tell him the time and ask him to get up.  He simply tugs the duvet over his head.  But you know that this could mean anything.  So you try again in 10 minutes.  Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes the dance continues until the school bus has been and gone, and then you taste that feeling of bitter failure once again.  Mornings like these are guaranteed to make most parents feel helpless, hopeless and useless.

Your child will be feeling miserable too.  True school refusal is nothing to do with your child being naughty or bold, but more to do with fear and anxiety.   They know you want them to go to school and they may want to go themselves, but they just can’t.

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