Back in January, when GF was at his old pre-school, the teachers (or "keyworkers" as I think they're known at that stage) took me aside and mentioned that they had noticed that he seemed unable to sit still and concentrate for very long during "Circle Time" (when they all have to sit in a circle and listen/pay attention to whatever "keyworkers" are talking about). They also said they were concerned that his gross and fine motor skills seemed a little behind, e.g. his sense of balance wasn't great, nor his paintbrush control. They did, however, say that his knowledge of numbers, letters, shapes and colours were advanced for his age (and that he was the most polite boy in the class!). They also said not to be unduly worried about any of this as, off the record, they were only compelled to flag this up 'cause Ofsted requirements/bureaucracy demanded it, and that they were of the opinion, as am I, that children of his age (he had just turned three at this point) should simply be allowed to develop at their own pace. Anyway, in accordance with Ofsted box-ticking etc they eventually managed to nab him an Individual Support Worker to work with him in class, which obviously improved things, and they also made a point of involving him in the preparation of food for "snack time" so he could work on his fine motor skills, which went on to improve dramatically and have not been an issue since.
So, onto the nursery at our local primary school, which is where he started in September. His nursery teacher had obviously been made aware of his background and she, to our relief at the time, seemed to have a likeminded common-sense view of it, believing that certain education professionals are too quick to slap labels on kids where they are neither warranted nor helpful, and that she would treat him no differently to the other children. However, since he started, I have been called in to speak to the teachers (there are two, plus one teaching assistant) more times than I can now recall for reasons I consider to be ridiculous. These include not always responding immediately when being called or addressed (what 3 and a half year-old engrossed in play does?), not crossing his legs neatly enough at "carpet time" (WTF?!) and, my favourite, not being able to repeat verbatim - until the fourth attempt apparently - an instruction given to him by his teacher, despite the fact that he had understood the instruction, acted on it immediately and was able to explain to the teacher what it was she had asked him to do. That wasn't good enough; she had a big issue with the fact that he couldn't, or wouldn't, repeat back to her what she had said, WORD FOR WORD!!! What the hell is that about (if not, purely, control)?!
There are actually a few other issues I have with both teachers there concerning their attitude and the way that they speak to parents (which is patronising, intimidating and ultimately demoralising) and it seems I'm not the only one amongst the mums who feels this way. Two examples of mine spring to mind: one when GF tripped and fell when leaving nursery one day and we returned inside for first aid, as he was bleeding from his mouth. The teaching assistant sprang into action, reassured GF and dressed his cut whilst one of the teachers (the senior one, who is the main one we have issues with) just looked on disdainfully and said, and did, NOTHING. The other is when I popped back at the last minute after dropping GF off one morning, as I'd just remembered to return his weekly library book, only to be told, sniffily and in front of the other parents, "well it's too late now, he'll have to go without a library book this week". Interestingly, they seem to give the boys and their parents a hard time (I know at least two other mums of boys there who feel they are being picked on) whilst leaving the girls pretty much completely alone. According to my next-door-neighbour, whose little girl is now in Reception, these teachers had several mums in tears last year - again, all mums of boys!
The piece de resistance came the week before last when, at the same time as telling me about the repeating verbatim episode, teacher said, and I quote: "He can't walk!". Now, what the HELL is that supposed to mean?!!!! He's been walking since he was 17 months old! Possibly later than average, yes, but well within the range of "normal." Apparently he never walks but, instead, "lurches" "shuffles", "skips" or "runs." HE'S NOT EVEN FOUR YEARS OLD FFS!!! In fact, as the nursery has a two-form entry, everyone in the class for this term was born in the calendar year 2004, making him, with his 19th December birthdate, very possibly the youngest child in the class. I just smiled and nodded while she was saying all this, all the while just letting it go over my head and taking it with a pinch of salt. However the more I think about it now, the angrier I get. How DARE she use the phrase "He can't walk!" There were numerous other ways in which she could have phrased what she thought she meant, and none of them would have been as downright offensive as that!
Anyway, a week or so into GF starting at this nursery, the teachers asked that he undergo a hearing test, due to his not always responding to them immediately when called. When I arranged the test and explained why his teachers were requesting it, a very keen and kind (and new) health visitor asked me if I had any other concerns, and I poured out all this stuff about what had been commented on at his preschool and nursery. She got in touch with the school SENCO, who submitted a report to a paediatrician, with whom an appointment was made to get him assessed for developmental delay or learning difficulties. In the meantime, I'm starting to think and fear all sorts...he's my first-born, so I have nothing to compare his development with, and I would never have had any inkling that anything was amiss had nothing been pointed out to me. Wasn't I meant to have a mother's intuition? How could I have missed anything seemingly quite major? And, most importantly and potentially terrifyingly, what might all this mean for his performance and happiness at school and, consequently, his long-term future?
So, yesterday, we had the appointment with the paediatrician at a specialist children's centre. Paediatrician spent an hour with GF and tested him on various things, e.g. speech and language, motor skills and co-ordination as well as physically examining him. And, guess what? HE'S NORMAL!!! There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with him! In fact, in some aspects of the tests, he performed higher than average! What's more, nice paediatrician fellow told me that he is fed up with over-zealous teachers getting kids referred to him that have absolutely nothing wrong with them, purely because they need to tick Ofsted boxes and, in some cases (and he suspected mine) the kid doesn't just sit there all sedate and compliant as they would like and actually has a personality!!! He also said that the school system these days seems to have a problem with accepting children as individuals, rather wanting them to perform as battery chickens to keep them ahead in their targets and league tables. Working in education and seeing what I do from my end, I also know this to be true. In fact it's something that actually put me off becoming a teacher. Interestingly of all though, he suggested, with a wry smile, that the reason for GF's apparent slow responses in class could be that "he doesn't like his teacher!" Spot on! And I can't say I blame him!!!
Basically, all this makes me feel incredibly angry, as well as sad. I've had to go through all this anxiety, not to mention GF, and all these resources have been squandered, and for what? For targets and league tables, and some stupid woman's power trip, that's what.
We've got GF's parent-teacher consultation on Thursday, which J will be attending with me, which should certainly prove interesting in the light of the paediatrician's conclusions. Not least 'cause J works in SEN and spends all day putting nightmare school headteachers in their places, never mind Little Hitler nursery teachers! During our dialogue with "Queen Victoria" (as I have nicknamed her - she looks a bit like her as well) I want to be assertive whilst avoiding all-out warfare - we've obviously got to think how GF might be affected by any fall-out, as she has already proved herself prone to being unprofessional - and basically tell her that as far as any "developmental" concerns go, we consider the matter closed and she should just get on with her job. Yes, that is, her job of managing of minor incidents day-to-day such as not being responded to after one call or not crossing legs neatly enough, without having to call parents in for every single bloody thing!
Wish us luck...I daresay she will not be amused, to coin a phrase!