Happy 18th birthday Hayley!

Hayley bids farewell to childhood and continues along the path to a future full of hope and ambitions…

Monday evening, at the computer

“Seems funny I won’t be reading about my life anymore…” Hayley looks sad but then her face lights up. “But hey I’ll be able to drink alcohol!”

Yes, Hayley turns 18 this month and as she says goodbye officially to childhood, we say farewell to the regular blog. We know the National Deaf Children’s Society will be there for us for a few years yet, but our biggest battles have been fought.

Number 18 Candles Cake

Looking back at the first blogs seven years ago I’m blown away by how far we’ve come. Hayley was in primary school and we were just beginning our journey to get her on the road to success and wellbeing in a hearing world.

Realising what we were up against after she was diagnosed as deaf, what her needs were, how they’d be supported (or most often not). Learning how we’d have to battle for every scrap of help, but how the National Deaf Children’s Society would be by our side, including often literally with our children and families’ support officer in school meetings, to help get what Hayley needed.

Learning about everything, from how to re-tube Hayley’s hearing aids – after hours of me trying to push (!) the new tube in – to how to apply for special exam arrangements when she reached GCSE year. Discovering she could be entitled to a special educational needs (SEN) statement and getting expert help from the National Deaf Children’s Society to appeal.

I remember how exhausting and frustrating primary school was for a child spending every minute intensely straining to hear what’s being said, not just by teachers but in the noisy chaos of the playground. The tantrums at home after a long day coping, headaches from a noisy world amplified by hearing aids – a world that won’t take the time to make sure Hayley’s heard, or to wait for her to get her words out when she stumbles, her processing skills and other deaf-related issues, like word retrieval difficulties, halting her, tripping her up.

The world moving on without her – her being just that step behind and being left out because of it. The loneliness, tears and isolation, the constant struggle socially.

I remember the high hopes of an excited 11-year-old Hayley starting secondary school thinking everything would be amazing, but finding it harder than ever – the challenges of navigating around a huge site, never quite knowing where she should be (she once sat through a French lesson thinking it was German!).

Being ostracised and bullied, sobbing every night, begging to move schools. More support from the National Deaf Children’s Society encouraging the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to help find strategies to improve things.

Being diagnosed with autism, then later undiagnosed, no resolution to her difficulties, perhaps just a mix of deaf-related issues.

Being permanently at war with useless SENCOs, battling for more support in the classroom. Getting information from the National Deaf Children’s Society explaining about rights to extra exam time, presenting it to the SENCO who’d refused Hayley extra time.

Remembering the time her consultant finally said, after countless operations including three mastoidectomies to rid her of cholesteatomas in both ears, that she’d now only need an annual check-up – yay! And Hayley asking would she always have to wear hearing aids and him saying “Yes Hayley, but they’re part of you, part of who you are”. I could kiss that man.

Then there were National Deaf Children’s Society residential events we’d collect Hayley from and find her apparently inches taller, self-esteem boosted, full of the fantastic time they’d had trying new things, making friends.

Watching Hayley’s love of cooking develop, winning young chef contests, gaining confidence and a direction.

Last September, fresh beginnings at catering college. Not wanting to put her hair up because her new classmates would see her hearing aids, then going for it anyway.

The National Deaf Children’s Society helped us through it all, helped Hayley find herself, believe in herself. She recently shared a Facebook post which said: ‘If I had the choice I would choose to be deaf’. She’s come such a long way from the frustrated meltdowns – “hate my hearing aids, hate my stupid ears”.

Hayley talks of volunteering for the National Deaf Children’s Society, to help support other deaf children to blossom into strong, independent young people who can hold their heads high and embrace life, their future, just like any other young person. Just like Hayley has.

I’ll be honest, I’m feeling more than a little emotional as I write this. I’ll probably hit the alcohol with as much enthusiasm as Hayley will!

But right now I want to say goodbye to the regular blog (though we might post an occasional update) and thank you to the National Deaf Children’s Society for helping to fight Hayley’s battles so far, and for all they do to help deaf children and young people. The world, and their world, is a better place for it.

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 got the revision blues

Revision is on the cards bringing with it big stress and frustration as Hayley embarks on the final run up to the GCSEs.

Tuesday, early evening after school

I walk into Hayley’s room. She has adopted the usual position – huddled under the duvet still in her school uniform, headphones on, Facebook up on her phone. I brace myself. Yet surely there’s no need, we’ve discussed this in a calm manner and agreed with logic and good grace that it has to be done.

“So, you going to get on with some revision then…?” I venture in a cheery, no problems, no arguments kind of way.
The response is one of disproportionate rage. What happens next is like a scene from The Exorcist, all spitting fury and head-spinning outrage.

I close the door on it and take a deep breath, searching my brain for another tactic.

Yup, the revision’s not going so well.

Student drawing a chart

We’ve had a letter home warning that Hayley is ‘at risk of not achieving a C grade in Maths and English’.

It follows the one earlier this year which said she’d been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*–C GSCEs’ so I’d already been through the ranting incited by pure frustration at Hayley being cheated of an equal education. Rage that the school had finally seen what I’d been banging on about for years but only now that the crunch had come, and their standing in the league tables in danger of being affected, had they taken notice and tried to pull out the stops.

But there’s room for more anger because now they’re personalising the blame, saying in so many words how of course much of the responsibility for a child’s failure or success comes from home.

Yes I know I’m angry, defensive, bitter and cynical, but that’s how it gets to you after years of dealing with the system and bashing your head against a brick wall to get your deaf child the help they need.

Anyway, we’ve been summoned in to various meetings to address it. The revision strategy meeting was useful and seems to have inspired Hayley, like it always does until the moment comes to stop talking about it and actually do it.

Suddenly clearing out the fridge and rearranging your books shelves in alphabetical order seem so compelling. We’ve all been there.

So I keep telling her you’ve just got to bite the bullet and do it. Break it down into small chunks, remove all electronic devices and screens other than the one with the revision websites up on it. And above all put it in perspective – it’s a tedious, mind-numbing, big black cloud enveloping you, but it is just a tiny little pinpoint moment in your life that can wield a huge influence on the future stretching out before you.

Perhaps the most effective wake-up call was showing her on a calendar that in five weeks she’ll be in the thick of it and two months from now she’ll be as free as a bird.

In the meantime we’ll try every strategy, bribe and reward going.

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are worrying

Hayley has learnt the results of her mock GCSEs and they’re not what she was hoping for…

Thursday evening after school

“Well I did good in some and, um, not great in others…” Hayley sounds overly bright as she hands me the slip of paper bearing her mock GCSE results.

A glance at her downcast face before scanning the results tells me I’m not going to be excited about what I see.

exam paper

She’s got a C for art, a Pass for a BTech subject and the rest range through E, G, a few Fs and for good measure, a U for Drama. This is bad. I didn’t think anyone got a U for Drama.

“Well done on the first two,” I reply equally overly brightly. “Still lots of work to be done but it’s good we know that at this stage so you can put the work in where it’s needed.”

Hayley’s very disappointed and knows that even though these grades don’t take account of her coursework, in which hopefully the grades are better, she’s still way off course. Success measured in five A–C grades may even be outside the realms of possibility for her now as I seem to recall a teacher saying it’s unlikely anyone could go up more than a grade at this stage.

Again I despair about the lack of support Hayley’s had over the years, not for want of me trying. Despite me banging on for years about how she is struggling, trying to get her assessed for an SEN statement, there’s never been the help she’s needed.

“She’ll be fine”, “just lacks confidence”… I’ve heard these phrases over and again, but the truth is that as well as her deafness, Hayley has various problems including word retrieval difficulties and slow processing skills.

So now my fears are materialising, but of course there’s no triumph in being right. Just fury and frustration at how Hayley’s been cheated of an equally flying start to her peers. The education system has badly let her down.

And understandably she’s become really quite demotivated, which isn’t going to help. It’s been creeping in during Year 11 as her subject teachers have heaped on the pressure make the huge leap to catch up to where she needs to be. She’s massively behind with her coursework, doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s being taught or set for homework – and is overwhelmed and beginning not to care.

“I’m rubbish, Miss hates me, she only cares about the A* students” is becoming a familiar refrain about every subject.
All we can do is keep trying to motivate her, get her working harder still and take full advantage of the sudden battalion of sixth-form mentors being wheeled out to help her with everything from maths to organising herself.

And there is some good news that’s cheered her up and hopefully will serve to inspire her. She had an interview for college where she’s applied to do a Diploma in Hospitality and Catering. They’ve made her a conditional offer on her getting five grade Cs but if she doesn’t make the grades they’ll take her on a lower level instead.

Still, a lot of hard work lies ahead over the coming months. Seatbelts fastened for a bumpy ride…

Hayley’s mock GCSE results are due…

It’s the start of the final push in Hayley’s school year, and the results of the mock GSCEs she took last term are due any day – the stress can only get worse…!

Monday teatime, writing up January’s events on the calendar…

Here we are, January – Hayley’s final two school terms. Last hurdles coming up, then that’s the end of her school life, all her hard work and struggles, all my battles – not particularly successful – to get the support she’s needed. The foundation for whatever comes next.

Hayley’s year are about to get the results of the mock GCSE exams they sat in December –a dummy run of the real results day in August. I guess they’ll experience the highs and lows, then be inspired to do their best for the real exams.

Student drawing a chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pupils will be excitedly ripping open their envelopes, then either whooping in triumph or biting back tears of disappointment before sloping off to mope over their failures.

I’m still trying to gauge how Hayley’s done, whether all the struggle will have been in vain.

Since last month, letters have been coming home saying ‘your child has been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*– C GSCEs’.

Well hello? Shout it from the rooftops, they’ve finally realised what I’ve been saying since she was eight. This girl needs help – she doesn’t understand, she’s not getting it, nor the results she needs other than when teachers help complete her work.

I’ve seen essays Hayley’s written that are barely comprehensible, read things in her literature folder and asked her ‘hey, where did that incredible description of a jewel-eyed, sabre-clawed, hellfire’s fire-breathing dragon come from?’

Because I know my girl well enough to spot a wildly out-of-character piece of imaginative writing when I see it.

‘I was stuck so Miss put that bit in,’ she’d say.

Time and again I’ve begged for support, knowing her grades were unrepresentative, that when crunch time came she’d be falling off the edge of a cliff.

Now the penny’s dropped. Suddenly Hayley’s been given a learning mentor in the shape of a sixth-former, plus another sixth-former for weekly maths tuition, and an organisational mentor who’ll shape her up into remembering where to be and when, what to bring with her, and how to devise a revision timetable. Plus one other mentor who I’m not at all sure what they’re for.

Call me cynical but now that her school’s precious league tables are at risk of being sullied by failure, they’re wheeling out a battalion of mentors for an intensive burst of cramming at the final stretch.

Too little too late! And not likely to be especially helpful when Hayley’s already bogged down with catch-up and revision.

As it is she stays behind most days for coursework catch-up and now they’re saying she needs to do more.

What she actually needs is more hours in a day so I suggested to her head-of-year that Hayley drops a subject. Hayley met with him and – very admirably – refused as she’s spent two years studying each subject and doesn’t want her efforts wasted. So we’ve agreed she can drop PE for extra catch-up. Hopefully that’ll do the trick.

In the meantime, we’ll hold our breath as she opens that envelope…