It seemed like only yesterday I was doing a trial school run to find the best route in my powerchair, when we met Abbigail's wonderful teachers and this photo was taken of us at a parents Stay and Play session mid-way through the school year. Abbie looks so grown up now compared to this image just 6 months ago. How could her first year of Primary School just flash by before my eyes?
It was very much mixed emotions picking her up for the last time from the reception playground, a plastic bag in her hand crammed with all the display work with her name on it, thanking the teachers one last time for everything they've done and spending a good 20 mins just taking it all in whilst Abbie rushed from one friend to another with goodbye hugs. I couldn't tell you if I was more choked up or more proud of everything she's accomplished in just a year at this school. Oh gosh, welling up again just writing that...
So without further aude, this was our experience in Reception from the unique prespective of Abbie having gone to mainstream with a Visual Impairment and having a Mum who's a wheelchair user being her #1 advocate.
We picked this particular School not just because it is within walking distance from my home, but because it supported children with various disabilities in the mainstream setting. With the added bonus of being right next to a special needs school, that has qualified visual impairment teachers that periodically nip over to Abbie's school to make sure every SEND child has the same learning experience as their peers, providing vital visual aids in the classroom and teaching the teachers how to support a child with progressive vision loss on a daily basis - educationally and socially.
At the beginning of school I was a bit apprehensive after learning she would be in a class of 35 other children. Those 35 children were split between two main teachers and 3 teacher's assistants. Though i needn't of worried, communication between me and the school and her main teacher was always open. Whether that be via email or telephone. Despite Abbie does not need 1-to-1 currently (though that is up for debate in the playground however), they allocated one of their teachers assistants to help her with toileting, extra supervision, printing off worksheets in larger print and so on. On class trips one of the teachers always had her hand as Abbie struggles with unfamiliar environments, dimly lit spaces and trips easily over uneven terrain because of her vision.
Before she started reception, I requested Abbie have IEHP (Individual Education Health Plan). Despite her nursery knowing about her additional needs this was not liaised with the school. This was something I had to make them aware of, which is worrying because if I wasn't used to advocating already or was a new parent, Abbie may have not got the support she was entitled to!
The form was quite straightforward and I feel with the IEHP in place, everybody was on the same page the whole year. Definitely a very important thing to have, even if your child doesn't require 1-to-1. That way if the school is not providing your child with the same learning as experience as their peers, with the needs being written down on paper in black and white, they have NO excuse to claim they were unaware of what exactly they need to do to support your child and why.
Only one of Abbie's nursery friends moved with her to reception to this particular school. Thankfully Abbie's a bit of a social butterfly, she befriends everyone and is the life and soul of the group!
I anticipated that she may be bullied at some point in her school years as a direct result of being clumsy perhaps, due to her vision deteriorating. What I didn't expect was the bullying to start within two months of starting Reception. This was heartbreaking. Abbie was targeted and taunted in the playground when she couldn't catch a ball and the children moved too quickly in their games around her for her to participate. One particular girl took it upon herself to knock her to the ground on several occasions on hard concrete, these incidents I reported immediately via email so they would have the details in writing. This quickly prompted anti-bullying week to be brought forward for her class and the girl in questions mother was informed of her behaviour. Thankfully this didn't happen again and the two girls now get along.
Access & Attitudes Towards Me Being A Disabled Mum
The school have been very accomedating with me in regards to putting down small doorframe lip ramps so I can get in Abbie's classroom to attend parents evenings and such. Rearranging some furniture during their Stay and Play session mid-way through the school year, without drawing too much attention to me which I appreciated. When it came to Abbie's first school play, sadly I could only park at the very back and could not see her performance what so ever as everybody at the back was standing. Thankfully Abbie's Nan was with me and she stood on a chair and videoed for me with her phone. It did make me feel very outcast and upset that I was right there but essentially missed it. I'm hoping to work with the school so the same thing doesn't happen when she goes into Year 1.
End Of Year Report
When I read her End of Year Report I welled up with sheer pride! This girl, was described by all who worked with her as a bright, bubbly character who was always kind and helpful. She's exceeding in 3 areas and right on target with the rest. All my worries that her sight would affect her learning melted away. Flicking through her learning journey, seeing that she's written her own little stories (that we've to encourage her teacher says) and simple maths equations had me in awe. I feel I can let go of some of that worry going into Year 1 after reading how incredibly well she's done. It's beyond incredible how far she's come in just a year, thanks to the right school.
Here's to the end of Abbie's first year of school, where on earth did it go?!
Now to keep her and her sister occupied for 6 whole weeks of the summer holidays! Wish me luck...