In February, the Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, Anne Longfield CBE, visited Chance UK to hear from children and parents about their experiences of school.
Many of the children who shared their experiences at the event had been excluded at primary school, often not receiving the support they needed to tackle underlying causes of behaviour. Mary-Ann was one of the parents at the event and her son Louie*, now ten years old, was first excluded from primary school when he was five. Here, Mary-Ann shares hers and her son’s story with us:
“Louie was just five years old when he was expelled from his first school. This was before we had an ADHD diagnosis and the first I knew that there were any issues was when he started to play out. Typically, he would wreck the room he was in, and I would get a call to go and get him. Often I would only just have got home from drop-off in the morning and my phone would go and I’d have to go back to school again. It was exhausting. At first the school dealt with it by excluding him for a few days. However, after one incident when he climbed a steep staircase and threatened to jump off, they decided to expel Louie.
I was devastated and was constantly ringing up to try and get Louie a new school place. He’s my only child and I wanted him to do well at school. After a few weeks I was told that there was a place for Louie at a Pupil Referral Unit. When we visited there had been an incident that day so every door was locked behind us. I thought, ‘I can’t send my son here, he’s only five years old. So I refused the place and Louie spent a whole term being home schooled.
Eventually another school place was found for him and things went really well but after a few weeks, Louie started to play up again. Over the next year he was excluded many times for his behaviour. It was so stressful; I’d dread hearing the words ‘can we just have a moment’.
Finally, we got referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and Louie had a weekly session. Things started to get better – he was definitely taking things in more and they helped him control his emotions. One game they played with Louie was that he had to be a volcano detective and make all the volcanos calm.
This was the start of a much better time and I was able to get a job and wasn’t worrying all the time. The school put in place an educational plan giving Louie one-to-one support. He loved these teachers but they kept changing. One time he said to me ‘everybody leaves me’ and I felt so sad. I had split up with Louie’s dad when he was just a year old and I knew he missed having time with his dad on his own too.
When Louie was nine years old there was another episode at school. I’d had a day off and been to the cinema and when I came out there were so many messages on my phone. I just thought ‘what has he done now?’. When I arrived at school Louie was in the reflection room with the Headteacher and Deputy Head. He was still smashing it up when I walked in. Finally, I went to my GP in tears and asked for help. That’s when Louie was diagnosed with ADHD. I thought everything would be wonderful after this and we’d get the support we needed but the issues at school still continued. By this time Louie was on reduced hours. At first it was four hours a day and then more recently it went down to just two hours. He’s hardly at school before I have to pick him up again. I can’t work and it’s very stressful. We’ve had lots of issues with other boys winding him up because they know he will get angry but it’s Louie that ends up getting excluded.
My relationship with the school has really gone downhill. At the start I was very quiet and respectful but I’ve realised over the years that you have to fight and be loud if you want to get the support you need. Sometimes I feel I want to scream and I’m so tired of fighting for things that he should have because of his educational plan. I have basically put my life on hold for the last two years just to be able to focus on Louie.
Chance UK have been incredible and have really helped him to calm down. Louie needs someone to have time to just be with him and give him some attention and that’s what they do. I would say to other parents who are struggling to give Chance UK a go – it’s really worked for us. Louie gets on really well with his mentor and it’s so nice to hear him laughing. It’s like I have my old son back. He went on a trip with them and I was so worried but it really brought out his caring side – he was the one helping the other children. He’d always been stopped from going on school trips at school because of his behaviour so it really meant a lot to him to be trusted.
I am worried about what will happen at secondary school. Louie says to me ‘what if I can’t get into school’, I know he’s scared and I have to fight back tears when I think about it.
I don’t want them to look at his past and think about that rather than his future. He loves art and I want him to enjoy his education and want more for himself, not for me, but for himself. I look forward to the day that he goes to school, says goodbye and I can get on with my day without worrying that I’m going to get a call.”
*Not their real names