Beating the bully

Hayley has been thriving at catering college, taken to it like a duck to hoisin sauce. Now something’s stirred things up and Hayley’s panicking…

Tuesday morning, at the computer

‘Mum, what am I going to do? It’ll ruin everything!’

It had to come. The transition to college had run too smooth since Hayley started in September.

But this is a nightmare. Yesterday Hayley came rushing home, slamming the door behind her like the enemy was after her, hell bent on her destruction. Which is kind of true.

Teenage girl covering her face

A bully from Hayley’s old school had turned up like a bad penny, transferring onto her course then being put into Hayley’s tiny learning group of four.

And to add insult, this enemy is not especially hell bent on her destruction, not one of her arch enemies, just a casual bully who takes mild pleasure in humiliating her.

For the last year of school This Girl made a point of ‘hilariously’ addressing her as Laura, some poor girl in their year who was obese and a figure of ridicule, because she said Hayley looked like her.

It ruined Air Cadets for Hayley when this bully joined. Hayley had been there three years, loved it, earned respect from other cadets and the officers. It was a boost from the struggle she had at school academically and socially.

But then This Girl arrived, started the bullying name game and succeeded in corralling off a friend Hayley had made there, then shutting Hayley out.

Along with others from school, she’s been on Hayley’s train each morning, attending another course at the same college. Hayley’s been walking a knife edge as the ‘Laura’ humiliation continued.

But to think she was now on the same course where Hayley’s made a fresh start is unbearable.

I had no intention of being involved in the nitty gritty of her college life, but I’d no choice. I emailed the lecturer, explained how Hayley had struggled with bullying issues throughout secondary school, which This Girl had been part of – and how even now on the train it was continuing.

Starting college had been the most amazing feeling for Hayley, a fresh start full of hope. Now she faced the prospect of the baggage following.

I acknowledged that it can’t be easy to please everyone, but I was talking about a girl who’d struggled, vulnerable because of her deafness – which for many children with hearing loss so often leads to isolation and social exclusion – and also social communication difficulties.

I said how in spite of the challenges, which had often left her utterly miserable and without friends, Hayley remains incredibly game and sociable. She’s been so happy at college, making new friends and getting on well, the clean slate with a more mature environment we’ve all desperately wanted for her.

I begged the lecturer at least not to have them in the same learning group.

And you know what? She emailed right back this morning saying she’d immediately take her out of Hayley’s group, that she’d monitor things and we should keep her updated of any problems.

Jaw dropping. I text Hayley. These people have already done more in one swoop than her school did for her in all her time there.

If you are deaf and being bullied, or if you have a deaf child who is being bullied, check out NDCS’s free resources.

A great start at college

College life turns out to be keeping Hayley pretty busy but also very happy

Saturday morning, in the garden…

I’m standing by the washing line pegging out flappy rows of little white chef’s jackets and aprons, making the most of this glorious autumn sunshine.

Hayley is four weeks in at her catering and hospitality course at college, and after the initial packed itinerary of welcome meetings, admin, food hygiene exams and general sorting out, they got down to work pretty quickly.

This has been the busiest week yet. Hayley and her fellow students have been cooking a range of delights for the restaurant at college, including pea soup, the vivid hues of which I’ve just about managed to get out of the chef’s whites (who was it thought of making chef’s uniforms white…!)

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

And Hayley is in bed, having a well-earned lie in.

It’s been full on, very different from the school days that saw her home by 3.20pm each day.

She’s now got long days and an hour’s train commute, so most often she’s out the door by 7.25am, and likely not back in until 6.30pm. Then there are the early starts two days a week when they have to prepare food for breakfast in the restaurant, so she’s gone from here by 6.45am – before I’m even out of bed!

But the amazing thing is that she’s doing it. And she’s managing it all by herself – by that, I mean classes and college life too. And she’s happy. Bingo!

After all the struggles through school years – with her deafness, specific learning difficulties, slow processing skills, friendship and bullying issues, rubbish support from school – she seems to be not just coping but flying.

And it’s just as well because I’ve barely seen her to ask, let alone had a chance to offer help of any sort.

Whereas at school there’s still that umbilical tie to your offspring, communicating with teachers, flurries of emails about progress/homework/uniform, and you’re kept in the loop as the parent ultimately responsible – suddenly it’s cast off time. It’s all down to them whether they sink or swim.

We’ve managed only a few snatched little conversations or texts from the train, because she’s been very busy with her social life too, going out with new friends straight after college (yes!!).

But she can hear okay with just her hearing aids, in the small classrooms and apparently even in the huge kitchens; her lecturers make sure she knows what she should be doing. She seems to be able to keep up with note taking and understand everything.

She’s exhausted but she’s loving her new life at college, making great headway, no intention of sinking.

It was a bit alien, and worrying, not being able to grill her closely about how she’s coping, but as it turns out no there’s no need for me to be concerned or even involved. It feels strange but liberating to be free from micro managing Hayley’s life and she certainly seems happy with the situation.

Making sure Hayley’s needs are met at college

It’s a whole new phase of life for Hayley as she prepares for her first term at college. She and Tiger Mum are determined to make sure her needs will be met from the outset…

Tuesday morning, outside Hayley’s college

Hayley and I are walking away from the vast buildings of the college that will be her new base for the next two years. We’ve been to a meeting with Dan from the additional needs team. The college seemed keen on promoting the support they can offer, so that gives me big hope. But then, bearing in mind how the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) at Hayley’s secondary school was full of talk when Hayley started – of the support they could offer, how Hayley’s needs would be communicated to her subject teachers – and how little of it came to fruition, I’m wary. At college there’s no involvement from the Teacher of the Deaf who assessed Hayley termly at school, so I found myself feeling quite business-like about asking exactly what support they can provide.

Students in a school hallway

Dan asked what support we wanted – exam access arrangements please (25% extra time and a separate room), we said, like she had at school. I explained that her deafness and slow processing skills entitled her to it. Dan said they’d give her a 45-minute writing assessment, then decide what support she needed. He said they’d put her on a six-week support trial initially, with copies of notes taken by the support and learning assistant (SLA) each lecture, plus help with assignments, then decide how much of it was needed ongoing.

So far, so good.

Battle-weary and wiser, I asked whether staff had any deaf awareness knowledge or training. I said I could send them some NDCS resources to help. He confidently responded that there were two BSL signers, and assistive technology. That’s great, but Hayley doesn’t use sign or radio aids. I tested the water a bit further, mentioning classroom acoustics. Dan said Hayley could sit at the front by the lecturer. I said there was more to it than that – Hayley needed to be able to see the lecturer’s face clearly so she could lipread.

I said deaf awareness was important; lecturers needed to realise that answers given by Hayley’s classmates in response to questions form part of the information everyone takes in – but would be lost on Hayley if they were sat behind her and she couldn’t see/hear them. A simple remedy is the lecturer always relaying the answers back to the class, so that Hayley too has the information.

Dan was clearly unaware of the issues, floundered a bit and said he’d never worked with deaf students before, so I again offered to send some NDCS resources, and he said okay.

As we walked to get our train afterwards, I expected a telling-off from Hayley about being difficult and embarrassing her, but was surprised when none came. “They seem much more helpful than school were,” she said, sounding hopeful. “Especially if they get the information.”

So that’s both of us that have moved on then. Cause a fuss, call them out. Don’t be fobbed off or assume they know best and will put everything into place. We made that mistake before.

Results day!

It’s GCSE results day, the moment of truth for thousands of 16-year-olds across the country. As Hayley goes into school to learn her results, Tiger Mother can only wait, bottle of bubbly and box of tissues at the ready, not knowing which will be needed…

Thursday morning, pacing the hallway

I’m trying to busy myself but can’t concentrate so I’ve given into wearing a path around the house, waiting for Hayley to come back from school where she’s finding out her GCSE results. I’m trying to be prepared for celebration and joy or commiseration and disappointment. Or all of the above!

Results day, I can’t believe it’s come at last. We’d pretty much put it to the back of our minds throughout the summer, it seemed a far-off distance on the hazy, sunny horizon.

Teenage Girl Happy With Good Exam Results

Then yesterday when the tension started hotting up, the ‘eek, it’s tomorrow!’ chatter among friends, family and classmates started building, it brought it sharply back into focus.

When I asked Hayley last night if she was feeling nervous, as many of my friends’ children confessed to, she just shrugged.

“I don’t really care anymore, I know I should but I don’t. As long as I do alright in Food Tech,” was the response.

Very down to earth and eminently practical – which is what Hayley is and why she’s heading for a career in catering and hospitality.

She doesn’t want to go to university, so why should she mind as long as she has what she needs to get into college to do her chosen course.

I’m fighting the impulse to run from the house, swallowing back little laughter squeaks of nervousness. I’m also practical, but I can’t bear the idea of Hayley being disappointed with dire fails.

The front door opens, she’s got the envelope in her hands. She’s waving it, she’s smiling, but she’s on the phone to her big brother Lee, who’s called from work to see how she got on.

“Well?!” me and her younger brother Harry shriek, crowding round her trying to get the envelope out of her hands.

So she clicks off from the phone and holds out the results letter.

She’s got two Cs (Food Tech and Art), a Pass and a Merit (in BTEC Science), plus a temporary Q (‘to be queried’ apparently) which is predicted to be a Pass (in Travel and Tourism), and a good IT supplementary exam which is a GCSE equivalent.

I make that just the right amount to get into her Diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Phew! Big PHEW!

Okay, English was an E and Maths was a D – so close, all that hard work she put into it, it’s a shame. The tragic thing is it means it will stalk her for the next two years at college until she gets a C, the same for English.

But what the heck. Work in progress. The main thing is Hayley’s got what she needs to be on her way to the career she’s desperate to be in. She’s a very happy and excited chef in the making.

Big hugs, no tissues, the champagne is chilling ready for popping when all the family’s home.

Let the future begin…

Has your deaf child just got their results? Feel free to comment below :)

*Please note image is not of Hayley

Life after exams

With GCSE exams all behind her now, the stress receding to a distant memory, Hayley has officially left school and looking forward to a long glorious summer before embarking on the next phase of her life…

Thursday evening, art exhibition in school sports hall

Well, we made it. When the battles, the shock and awe strikes and the crossfire suddenly subside, it feels unnaturally calm.

Twirling my glass of wine in my hand, standing in the GCSE art exhibition admiring Hayley’s little corner of achievement, life feels very civilised.

I give Hayley a hug. “Love it,” I say. “See? It was all worth it.”

She shrugs, blasé like it doesn’t matter at all, but the relief is clear. Every day since the final exam she uncoils a little more; smiles, laughter, even pleasant conversation, in evidence once again.

We got through the hellish weeks and months of revision and exams. The tidal waves of encouragement, the pep talks, the drip-drip of nagging, the bribes…

It’s over bar the shouting – August 20th results day.

Students in a school hallway

But I don’t think there’ll be tears and tribulations.

Hayley doesn’t want to do any more purely academic study. She’s got a college place to do what she loves, catering and hospitality, and will be placed on the most suitable course level after her results are known.

But also, whatever the results, she knows she’s done her best.

Several weeks before exams, parents with children at risk of failing to get grade A*– C grades were asked by the deputy head to write a letter to their child, expressing how proud we were of them and how certain that they’d try hard and do well in their exams.

The sealed envelopes were distributed by the deputy head on the first morning of exams.

Apparently it did wonders for the performance of a rugby team (England?) and for the GCSE exam grades of a school that had tried it.

It seemed a great idea, and once I’d started there was so much to say. Because if there’s one thing Hayley is it’s a trier.

Part of it read: ‘You’ve shown your determination over again since you were born, half the size of most babies, first fighting to get well and strong and come out of hospital. And again whenever you’ve had big operations.

And when you find things tough because of your hearing or your difficulty understanding/processing some things.

Whether it’s learning to swim, running in school relay races with the most determined look on your face, little legs bombing along; jumping off mountains into freezing cold lakes with Air Cadets; or just doing your best to sort out something I’ve asked you to do – whatever it is you’ve done it to the absolute best of your ability. Your determination shines through like a beacon.

You are such a trier, and that’s what is important in life. Anyone can be skilled or academic or gifted – but it’s how hard you try, how determined you are especially when you don’t find things easy, that’s important.

It’s those that don’t find it easy yet still do their damndest that deserve the credit. And that’s you.”

I’m not sure whether it’ll help, especially as being Hayley she forgot to go and collect it until after her first two exams – ! – but anyway it’s true. Her qualities are easily worth as much, and will be as useful to her in life, as any amount of A* grades.

The Exam Monster

Hayley’s family are hunkered down waiting for the danger to pass as she runs the final gauntlet of her GCSE exams

Saturday afternoon

I’m in the hallway straining to hear anything from upstairs but there’s only silence.

I know the exam monster is in its room. The door is shut with an angry orange glow around it. We’ve heard occasional shrieks, cries and gnashing of teeth, rampages to the kitchen for human, preferably chocolate-covered, bones to feed the beast, followed by house-quaking slams of her door.

But right now it’s quiet. It can mean only one of two things – she’s revising or she’s on Facebook. Dare I pluck up the courage to find out? Hmm, not yet. I’ll hold faith a little longer, which will encourage her if she’s doing the right thing and perhaps induce guilt-powered resolve if she’s not.

teenager exam

We’re several weeks into the GCSE onslaught, with less than a fortnight until it’s all over, bar the shouting. The house is a tinderbox, the advice is not to even make eye contact, definitely not ask how it’s going or offer any tips about revision or exams. Or anything. But all that aside, Hayley’s being a trouper, struggling along, knuckling down to study. She is more practical than academic and it doesn’t come easy to her.

Also, on the bright side, exam access arrangements are in place, meaning 25% extra time and a separate room – and I was notified in advance. That’s progress from two years ago when Hayley was told by the SENCO at the end of a class exam that she wasn’t eligible for extra time and should leave the room along with non-special needs pupils. This was Hayley’s right yet the SENCO didn’t know and I had to battle for it.

There have been wobbly moments, including Hayley walking out of her Art GCSE exam on the final day. But there were trying circumstances – a blaze broke out when the pupil next to her accidently set light to her own final piece. With the whole room in shock, the poor girl in tears, Hayley and another girl upset about damage to their final piece from water used to douse the flames, it perhaps wasn’t the moment for the art teacher to tell Hayley her home-prepared sketchbook pieces weren’t very good.

Hayley’s already low self-esteem knocked, still unnerved by the blaze, she’d shouted that she was obviously rubbish before running from the room. I was worried she’d be disqualified but it’s all okay. I told Hayley I understood but it probably wasn’t good to make a habit of it.

Hold it together Hayley, you’ve come this far. The light at the end of the tunnel is nearly here, last exam on the 11th.

The prom ticket’s paid for, the dress tried on, the ‘Leavers 2015’ hoodie ordered. Just keep going Hayley, hold your nerve and keep your head down for another fortnight. Then you can embrace a summer of freedom and the next stage of your future.

Hayley’s earning money!

Hayley’s got a new job, a budding fledgling bank account and friends – the girl’s going places

Saturday morning, in the car

‘OMG! I can’t believe it, Mum look!’

I resist the temptation to squint at Hayley’s mobile screen as I’m driving.

‘How about just tell me so I can keep my eyes on the road – is it good or bad?’

I can’t tell from the exact nature of the shriek but veering towards good rather than tragic I’d say.

‘I’ve been paid over £100!’

Extreme close-up of hand holding a modern smartphone with a generic mobile banking app running. This is a version with Pound symbol. Note to inspector, concerning copyright etc: The whole screen (every single graphic element, including battery indicator) is designed by myself.

I’m driving Hayley to work – her new weekend job at a big children’s amusement farm near us. It really is the Holy Grail of the teenage job market in this area – and she’s just seen her first month’s wages in her online bank account.

Hayley can still barely believe she’s got the job; the competition is huge. It took a lengthy application form, complete with points-based psychological personality profiling scenarios to respond to, then a four-hour team-based assessment evening with 40 other applicants – and hallelujah she got it!

She didn’t mention her deafness, although of course her hearing aids are visible. We’d decided not to put it on the application form either as she needed no support to communicate – with her hearing aids plus a little lip reading she gets on fine.

I do wonder if it would’ve made a difference had she flagged it up. We’ve debated in previous job applications whether or not to include it, deciding on the ‘let’s not give them any reason to turn her down, illegal discrimination or not, and bring it up later’ approach.

I don’t believe people are deliberately discriminatory but I suspect often, through lack of knowledge, some might imagine deafness will present too many difficulties so it’s easier to just sift out the application, perhaps for other reasons.

I know not everyone would agree, but I think deaf and proud guerrilla-style is the effective way forward for Hayley in these instances. Get in the door, then there’s the chance to prove yourself, that your abilities are as good as anyone else’s.

So Hayley’s doing weekend shifts, some on the activities side but mostly in their cafes. This is great because she’s aiming for a career as a chef and her hospitality and catering college course lined up for September requires students to have a part-time catering job to support studies.

Hayley couldn’t be more thrilled. That girl loves to work, the money’s just an added bonus for her.

She loves it – the uniform, the team meetings, doesn’t even mind getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning (no me neither, honest…). She’s made friends too, which is fantastic; school’s been a struggle socially all the way along.

Already it’s done lots for her self-esteem. At 5.30pm when they all troop out, the farm army of weekend workers, it’s so good to see her happy little face, enjoying being part of something worth having.

I know she should be spending those hours revising, I’ve clocked the looks from other parents of Year 11s, but as far as I’m concerned Hayley needs mates, self-esteem and a solid work record more than she needs top grades.