Andy Palmer: We made it through primary school

Posted on July 22, 2013

This Wednesday at 3:15pm, my son, William, will be walking out of Hampton Vale Primary School’s door for the last time.  He has thoroughly enjoyed being a pupil there (a school with no previous experience of teaching deaf children) for the last seven years. But it wasn’t ever our first choice of school, in fact, it was the third.

The first choice was a school where some deaf pupils already attended and was known as the ‘place to go’. It had specialist staff  and our hopes were high but when the teacher that toured us around the school pointed out the third ‘hearing impaired’, the decision was made. “There’s a hearing impaired, there’s another hearing impaired and look, another one!’ said the guide. Nameless ‘hearing impaireds’ all over the place.

The second choice of school provided us with our first experience of the discrimination levelled against four-year-old deaf boys.  The headteacher told us that he thought William wouldn’t do well at his school and we really ought to try another school. Yes, you guessed it, the school that substituted the children’s names with the much easier-to-remember the ‘hearing impaireds’.

We could have thrown the book at that school (choice two) because a school can’t refuse entry to children on grounds of deafness. The reality was that even though the rejection hurt us, there was no way we would let William’s education take place in a school where they either didn’t believe in themselves or deaf children. No way. We left it there.

And that brings me to our third choice of school – Hampton Vale Primary School. What happened at the first meeting I had there means I’m probably going to miss it just as much as my son says he’s going to.

The then headteacher, Mr Skinner, pledged to me the very first time that we met that he would do whatever it took give little William the best education he could. No one had said that to me until that moment. It had all been about the ‘process’ of educating deaf children or flat rejection. Finally, this was the place we were looking for.

It didn’t matter that the ‘rules’ said that Mr Skinner had to take William in – I think he would’ve if they didn’t. That was the difference – he believed in his school. That original commitment to William was carried through by all the teachers and support staff who taught him throughout the last seven years. Mr Skinner left the school long ago but the commitment to William endured.

It wasn’t the council’s rules about inclusion that counted; it was the school’s positive attitude about inclusion that set them apart.

The last seven years have not always been straightforward. There have been disagreements, tears, faulty equipment, misunderstandings and regular challenges to overcome but the teachers have worked hard and remained professional and open. It has sometimes been emotional, sometimes lonely, but we always found a way forward and always succeeded in the end.

Even through times of tension, I always felt that the lines of communication were open and I could share any concern, idea, fear or praise that I needed to and I encouraged every teacher to do the same back to me. All of his teachers, except the specialist teachers of the deaf, had never taught a deaf child before so they probably needed support and reassurance too. Besides, I always knew William’s education was going to be a team effort and that I would have to play my part just as much as the teacher, teacher of the deaf or one-to-one support would have to. We were in this together.

William did well in his SATs, which means he’s moving up to secondary school on track in some subjects or ahead in others.  If I were offered those results on his first day, I would have taken them and I say that purely because we were entering into the unknown. William was still a year away from saying ‘Daddy’ at the time, although his signing was good. As far as he’s concerned though, his best achievement would be scoring at Peterborough United’s stadium for the school football team in the local cup final. It’s up there for me too.

Come Wednesday home time, many of my fellow parents are going to be wiping away the tears because moving up to secondary school is a big step and marks the inevitable change from little kids to big kids. With five or seven more years of school to go, it’s so far so good as we step once again into the unknown – mainstream secondary education.

I always tell William that I’d love him just as much whatever results he gets at school. Love doesn’t depend on grades (or speech or listening skills) and it never will. That’s my attitude. I have a few good people to thank for theirs.

By Andy Palmer, The Limping Chicken’s Editor-at-Large.

Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP  (views expressed are his own).

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