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.

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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.

Exam access arrangments for deaf teens (part 1)

When Hayley is denied extra time in her maths exam, a baffled Tiger mother embarks on a battle to ensure Hayley is given the Exam Access Arrangements she needs.

I’m sitting here fuming. I can’t believe how rubbish Hayley’s school Special Needs Coordinator (Senco) is.

As the new term gets underway, once again it dawns on me, the deja vu feeling of ‘oh god here we go again’ as familiar as the scuttle of crisp yellow autumn leaves along pavements and the long nights drawing in.

School. And with it the deflating inevitability of the battles ahead.

There are several to be had, but the biggest one has been trying to find out what special arrangements Hayley should have for exams and tests.

I recalled learning from NDCS that deaf students can have extra time, a reader where necessary and a quiet room. I foolishly assumed this would automatically be put in place.

“When Hayley asked about her extra time the Senco replied that she wasn’t entitled to it”

But then one day at the end of summer term, Hayley came home upset. They’d had a maths test and she hadn’t finished the paper. At the end, the Senco had taken some pupils off for extra time, but when Hayley asked about her extra time the Senco replied that she wasn’t entitled to it.

I was baffled but took it as a reminder to find out exactly what she should be allowed.

“Some deaf children are entitled to 25% extra time in exams”

I called NDCS helpline and they emailed me information on Exam Access Arrangements, including the fact that some deaf children are entitled to 25% extra time in exams. The information suggested asking either Hayley’s Senco or Sensory Support about her case.

Because the Senco has been ineffectual up until now, I decided to contact Sensory Support. They said they’d pass the message onto Hayley’s Teacher of the Deaf (ToD).

That same afternoon, I received a belligerent email from the Senco, stating that she was “puzzled that you were querying why I “refused” Hayley any access arrangements for the recent exams.”

She continued by telling me that “Hayley’s literacy skills are excellent and so she clearly does not need to have any help with these or her writing.”

For one, that was irrelevant – these skills were tested three years ago and ToD assessments since then have shown Hayley’s levels have dropped, as the lessons and language have become more advanced.

I responded, asking whether she’d considered Hayley’s deafness and her specific learning difficulties.

I said I didn’t recall mention of Hayley’s processing speed being tested – I’d read in the NDCS information that some deaf students need longer to process what they read and were allowed up to 25% extra time. The same went for pupils with specific learning difficulties, such as poor working memory – which the Senco had made no mention of, but which it is documented that Hayley has.

Then I got a call from Hayley’s ToD. She was very helpful, and asked me to leave it with her. She added that it would be preferable if I didn’t mention to the Senco that I’d spoken to her – it wouldn’t go down well as her duty was to report to the school, not the parent, and we wanted to get the best outcome.

Days later, Hayley told me the Senco tested her processing speed, then informed her that the results showed her processing was slow, and she’d therefore be allowed extra time in exams.

Hooray I think? I couldn’t be certain unless the Senco confirmed it, but I received nothing from her.

The summer came and went. Back at school I’ve emailed asking for an update. It turns out the Senco has left, and even though I’d copied in the new Senco, I got no response.

I re-sent the email exchange and finally I’ve received an email from the new Senco, saying that the ToD has provided a report that recommends specific access arrangements for examinations and tests for Hayley. “These include additional time and the provision of a quiet room. We have now added Hayley to the school’s Access Arrangements list to ensure she receives this entitlement from now on.”

Hallelujah!!

So we’re a little further forward, thanks to NDCS, as ever, Hayley’s ability to speak up for herself and my stubbornness. Hayley now has a better chance to get good grades in her GCSEs.

But the point is, if we hadn’t spoken up, she’d not have had as good a chance of success.

“Deaf children underachieve in GCSEs”

And what makes me mad is that Hayley’s not going to be the only one – deaf children already underachieve in GCSEs, with 63% of deaf children failing to get 5 A* to C GCSE grades including English and Maths.

The lesson once again is that your deaf child won’t get what support they need without fighting for it.