Sticking with college

Hayley’s been struggling with college, but there’s good news on that front and a change of direction avoided

Thursday evening, in the hall

Hayley’s just come in the door and she’s smiling, which is surprising given that she’s just done an hour of maths tuition.

Student drawing a chart

How was it, I ask.

“Yeh, good,” comes the fairly shocking reply.

Hayley hates maths with a passion; I’ve seen her often reduced to tears by a page of algebra or trigonometry. She really struggles not just with maths, but most academic subjects. It’s due in part to her deafness, I guess, being left behind to flounder throughout school, especially as she has other learning issues such as slow processing skills and poor auditory memory.

And this is why she’s been so anxious recently – she was told by one of her college tutors that she needs a C grade in both Maths and English in order to pass her level 2 diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Some of you may remember from last month that while Hayley loves the cooking and front of house part of her course, she’s become so frustrated and fed up with the academic side, the written assignments as well as English and maths that she was desperate to leave and get an apprenticeship instead.

I’d tried to talk her out of it as it seems a better, more higher salaried option to enter her chosen career with as high a qualification as possible.

Well since then, I’ve been in touch with National Deaf Children’s Society about it and they told me it could be discriminatory if a vocational diploma pass was dependent on English and maths results.

So I contacted the college and they confirmed that the diploma is a separate qualification, not dependent on maths and English grades. It turns out that it was one misinformed tutor who misled Hayley, so they are now making sure the issue is clarified to all the tutors – and a lot of weight has been taken off Hayley’s shoulders!

She does still have to keep doing her maths and English until she’s 18 or gets a C grade, and of course they’re qualifications and skills that will be useful throughout life.

Hayley’s course leaders have now transferred her from GCSE English to English functional skills with the plan being for her to work up from there towards a GCSE. And I’ve arranged for some maths tuition from a local tutor for an hour once a week, to help her confidence. It’s not cheap, but hopefully it will give her a boost.

Onwards and upwards…

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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.

Exam access arrangements for deaf teens (part 2)

Hayley’s upset and Tiger Mother’s frustrated because the exam access arrangements that were promised for Hayley haven’t been put into place.

The blazer is slung across the kitchen table, the school bag’s dumped on the ground, Hayley is slumped on the floor beside it. The pretence is that she’s cuddling the dog – who is lapping up this unexpected attention – but I know she is upset.

“Come on, how bad was it?” I ask, not daring to mention the maths test by name.

Silence. Nothing given away by the top of her head.

“You can tell me, I know how painful maths is…” I use my best jolly, coaxing voice.

Her face lifts up to me, a picture of long suffering stoicism as she shakes her head with doom laden portent.

“No you don’t! You don’t know what it’s like. Not when you don’t even half-finish the stupid test and get only five out of 45 correct, and Jonathan is calling you a simpleton and kicking you when you try to walk by.”

Hmm, situation does sound grim.

Hang on a minute – why is Jonathan in the special quiet room she gets for exams due to her eligibility for exam access arrangements?

He wasn’t in the quiet room, it turns out, and neither was Hayley – she was in the classroom with everyone else. And it seems she’s had an English test and geography test too, with no special arrangements.

Grrrrr. Really?

I spent the end of the summer term battling to get these exam access arrangements nailed down. When the Senco told me that Hayley didn’t need any special arrangements because her literacy levels were fine, I requested (having gleaned information from NDCS’s helpline) that she test Hayley’s processing skills.

Sure enough, like many deaf children, Hayley’s skills were slower than average, which meant she should have 25% extra time and a quiet room in which to do all exams, practice papers and teacher assessments.

This autumn term, the new Senco started and assured me that he had added Hayley to the school’s access arrangements list to ensure she received this entitlement from then on.

New Senco, new hope? Pah. Poor Hayley, who’d been left so confused up until this point, had finally been assured she’d be allowed extra time and a quiet room. I thought we’d finally sorted it.

Fighting down the familiar frustration, I contacted him asking why the arrangements hadn’t been put in place. He said that all staff had access to the list and that he would contact Hayley’s subject teachers to ensure it wasn’t overlooked again, as it was important that it became Hayley’s normal way of working.

I forwarded his emailed reply to Hayley so now she can see for herself what should happen, and will hopefully have the confidence to speak up or alert someone if it happens again.

It’s not a moment too soon, seeing as she is starting her two year GCSEs course – in fact she’s just been informed she has a BTEC exam later this month.

I’ll consider myself reminded that there is no room for complacency when it comes to my deaf child getting the support she needs at school.

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.