We often hear the message that school days are the best days of your life.
But what if they aren't the best days?
What if school fills your child with utter dread and they refuse to attend?
I don't believe any child refuses school. It is the school that has refused them. Every child wants to be the same as others, to have friends, to learn, and to be happy.
Of course, they do!
Children want to socialise, have fun and make memorable experiences. They want to learn new skills and they do want an education. But for some children the school system makes that impossible for them.
What makes school today so challenging for some children?
With a question like that it's hard to know where to start. There are so many reasons why for some children the school system just isn't working. Endless academic pressure, the monotony of school, rules that make a child feel anxious, punitive systems, reward systems and award ceremonies, noisy playgrounds, social pressure, the smells, the bright lighting, being shouted at, wearing a uniform and being told to keep a blazer on when you're hot, having to have toilet passes, not being able to eat or drink when you need to, bullying and social anxieties in a massive group of people, social media and the pressures that it brings outside school hours, having to "fit in" and be "socially acceptable" to the masses, complete lack of autonomy, being judged against peers in terms of academic progress, systems that make you look different if you need additional support.
These are just a few!
So, what if school wasn't like that?
What if a school could see the individual for who they really are? What if strengths in whatever area could be encouraged and celebrated? What if a child could work at their own pace and receive exactly the support they need, but without having "interventions" and being made to feel inadequate? What if there was flexibility in the curriculum and they could enjoy a variety of experiences? What if uniform was completely flexible? What if social situations were supported and a culture of respect and kindness from both adults and children was a given? What if they were really listened to? What if parents were supported too and collaborated with the school to support the child?
What if there was just some old-fashioned kindness and humanity in the system?
I chose the picture for this blog because I think it sums up perfectly the idea of adults being there to catch a child if they fall. It's about trust. School should be, and should feel like, a safe space in all ways. Support needs to be in all ways - emotionally, academically, physically.
To us, your child is not a number on a roll. They are not one of many in a year group or a tutor group. (We don't even have year groups and tutor groups!) We listen to the things they tell us both by their words and the things unsaid.
When your child is at a point where they cannot face going to school, telling them to be resilient or to try because the law says they have to go to school - this won't help.
A bit of time each week with a counsellor or ELSA- this won't help. "Checking in" with a trusted adult once or twice a day- this won't help. I'm not saying these aren't worthwhile things to do, but for many children this just isn't enough. How can it be?
If you are scared of spiders imagine going to a room full of big tarantulas all day. Imagine they are crawling all around the room. This is how some children and young people feel at school. We must appreciate the genuine anxiety and stop gaslighting fears.
It's the whole system that needs to change - not your child.
If we don't recognise what they are trying to tell us, then the costs in terms of mental health and untapped skill sets will be too high to even contemplate.
Let's recognise and acknowledge their fear and make the real change that some children and young people need.