Living with Cerebral Palsy 🍋🍋

Friday, 7 July 2017

Why I love Elin's school

Recently Elin came home from school with a photo which reminded me of just how much I love her school. Having a local school like hers is just a crazy stroke of good fortune. It's the sort of school that, if you have a child with PMLD, you'd be getting on 'Right Move' and looking to up sticks just so that your child could attend. So we are enormously grateful that it just happens to be in our town and that Elin was enrolled at two and a half years old.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I have waxed lyrical about the school many times in the past. It's hard to describe what they have provided over the years for Elin with their ethos of inclusion and high standards of education. Each child, regardless of ability, is fought for, nurtured, encouraged, developed, taught and most importantly, loved.  This ethos was initially created by one of the most dedicated champions of the rights and needs of children with PMLD in education as you are ever likely to meet. Wendy Jones, the Head of Elin's school until her retirement last year, quite literally created (down to designing the new building of the school herself a few years ago to suit the children in the best way possible) a place where children like Elin could flourish and never ever be seen as less able, less important, less in any way. She spent her whole career cultivating a place of equal rights, of celebrating children with severe disabilities, of pushing boundaries and making children the best they could be. In fact, the school's motto is 'Working together to be the best we can be'. The Head accepted nothing less than excellence when it came to the teaching of her children at the school and we parents observed nothing less than excellence as a result. The staff too are amazing and if you ever want to see the epitome of 'Teamwork' just pay them a visit. It is not a school, it is a family. In addition to the outstanding teachers (that's official, ask the Estyn inspectors) there is an army of teaching assistants, each one assigned as a key worker for every child, each one like a personal guardian angel. The work they do day in, day out on a 1:1 basis with the children is sometimes incredibly difficult for them but always beyond compare. We joke about Elin's key worker being her second Mum. But when you consider the hours Elin spends at school every week, she actually is. There's nobody we'd rather hand the reigns over to outside of family for six hours a day in terms of caring for our girl.  It's little wonder to me that years ago the school became widely regarded in the circles of special needs education as a centre of excellence and somewhere that people came to observe good practice from all over Wales (and probably further).  The Head of the mainstream part of the school, Mrs Thomas, has also for years and years worked equally hard to create an excellent and revered environment for learning. She values and has carefully fostered the partnership with the special needs unit above anyone's expectations. This part of the school, too, has been named as outstanding and rightly so. Along with the incredible senior management team Mrs Thomas is just as dedicated as ever to maintaining this reputation and continuing to work in the very best interests of the children, since the sad retirement of Wendy last year. I would like to say this is the 'norm' for special needs school's but I know for a fact it isn't, though of course it should be. We know how lucky we are.
One of the most important things the school holds dear is inclusion. I have blogged about this before. The Christmas concert and Sports Day being examples of when I have seen it in action (find my post about the Christmas concert and the why I love the relationship between the children here). But the truth is there is a dedication to inclusion that runs through each working week at Elin 's school. I have been frequently told that the children from mainstream have been desperate to come and play with Elin. I know that sometimes in the past coming to play with Elin has been a chosen 'Golden Time' reward. These children are CHOOSING to play with Elin in their own time. The staff encourage the friendships as equal, in no way are the children like Elin seen as people they should feel sorry for. They get as much out of playing with Elin as she does. It's not even a big deal to them.
But it's a massive deal to us.
The nature of Elin's school is that the children in her class are not really able to interact in the usual way with one another. Although they clearly enjoy being around each other and regularly take part in activities together, most are non-verbal. This means that Elin only hears adult voices. She only really 'plays' with adults. That is until the children from mainstream come in. Children bring with them an energy, an innocence, an exuberance that Elin absolutely thrives off. If it wasn't for these kids she would be missing out on that. But in the true style of her school they won't have her missing out on anything. So along they come, reading to her, talking to her, playing with her. She is just one of them.
It's difficult to describe how this makes you feel as a parent. We all know the benefits of inclusion for children, it goes without saying. But nobody talks about the benefits for the parents. That we get to see Elin doing exactly the same as the other children. That she doesn't need to sit out of Sport's Day, that I can proudly show off the Sport's Day photo's like all my Mum friends. That she is not segregated by the fact she has wheels where her feet should be. She is in the school play and her class are taking part in the careers day, or the World book Day fancy dress, or taking part in imaginative play together, or the fun day at the end of term.
How can you explain what that means, as a Mum? Something that really upset me when she was a tiny two year old going off to Nursery was that everything I knew about primary school would be 'different' for Elin. Everything would feel 'alien' and she wouldn't get to do all the things my friend's kids were doing, the things I did when I was young, the things I was doing with my classes as a teacher myself.  But it turns out I was wrong and I can't explain how happy I am that I was wrong. Elin hasn't missed out on a single thing. I can't say anything meaningful enough to convey what Elin's attendance at this school has meant to us over the years. Her inclusion and her worth there. But I can say thank you.
Thank you for working together as a school to give my daughter moments like this, which make us cry when we see the photo in her home school diary because it's just so wonderful. Not only for her, but for us too. Look at the faces of these lovely boys during a "Grease" dress up afternoon-they are so proud to be with Elin! There is zero pity there. I've been told that one of them in particular has been her friend since they were tiny, actively seeking her out to 'look after' during shared school time.You see, when we see photograph's like this, we just don't feel so very different. We feel included.

***EDIT***  Before publishing this blog, I wrote to Mrs Thomas to ask permission to use the above photograph. In a move that typifies the thoughtful attitude of the school, I did not just receive a letter or phone call back from her. I received a phone call from all four boys pictured. As they took it in turns to come onto the phone and speak to me an EXTREMELY large lump formed in my throat! They told me that they would be 'very happy' for their photo to be used in my blog. They said they were proud to know Elin, that they felt lucky to be part of such a school, that they looked forward to visiting Elin and her friends. Playing with Elin and the other children is one of their favourite things to do at school they told me. One boy said, and this is a direct quote 'When I see Elin her smile just brightens up my day'. 
Her smile brightens up our day, too.
Thank you.



  1. Wow indeed. That's so fab, so happy for you that you have a brilliant place. Most of the time, the right attitude and passion from someone is all it takes x

  2. Loved reading this and as I'm currently looking for a school for Joseph to transition to secondary it's heartwarming to hear such stories #PostsFromTheHeart

  3. Such an utterly beautiful post. This is what inclusion should look like. This proves it can work. This is what all schools should look like. So so glad that Elin is at such a wonderful school, which as a teacher like you, I know all too well sadly isn't always the case. One day I hope this is what inclusion will always look like. #PostsFromTheHeart

  4. It is so wonderful you have been able to find a school that includes your daughter so well. The pictures sum up your post beautifully. #PostsFromTheHeart

  5. A beautiful, meaningful post that gave me an insight into your relationship with your daughter. Thank you for sharing.

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