It has taken a lot to come back on the site and post my news because the site brings back a lot of happy memories and some really terrible ones too.
For those of you who haven't followed my saga here it is in brief (well as brief as I can be!)
We had no major doubts that our son would pass his 11plus. We had a child already in the grammar who was flying there - school writing us letters of congratulations etc (seriously!
)...well our younger son was just as bright, if not brighter since he had the benefits of big brother to bounce ideas off of and whose school books were a never ending source of facination to him.
I was almost beside myself with excitement on 2nd March (ok then I completely lost the plot...was writing songs and manifesting all sorts of perculiar behaviour understood mainly only by those in the rehab section) and almost hijacked the postman when he arrived.
When I opened the letter it was such a shock. For a split second I was sure I had someone elses letter - the scores bore no relation to my son's practice papers done at home where he regularly scored in the high 90%'s and did so in less time than required. In fact his speed was phenominal and often quite scary!
The scores were truly stunning...not even close...not in the borderzone either. My initial reaction was one of shock and bewilderment.
I won't even tell you the reaction of my older son, nor the reaction of my younger son...even the reaction of my little girl...it was just a horrible horrible day. We were a desperately sad family that day. For 4 years my younger son had lived and breathed the life of the grammar - the head had joked with him, 'ooohh no, not another one!' everytime he saw my son.
The next shock was this....we didn't get ANY of the schools on our list and my very very bright little man was assigned an out of the area failing school which had just been taken off of special measures....or we had the option of applying to another out of catchment school which was just about to go on special measures. I lost 10lbs in 2 weeks. (I don't recommend it as a dieting technique though!)
Meanwhile back at primary school everyone was talking about their new schools - where they were going, what they expected, who was going with them....my son had to keep writing in answer to all of these questions, 'I don't know.'
We decided to appeal...even if we had got our second choice school we would still have appealed because the overall circumstances were not good. I won't bore you with all the details you'll have to trust me.
As the 11plus test approached our son's excitement turned to anxiety...he was attacked with a case of the 'what if's' although there was no reason for him to worry about this. I feel that the more intelligent the child, the more likely they are to realise just how much rides on this test. I wonder how many of us pefectly capable drivers would fail a driving test tomorrow if we were told we could only take it once and it would determine whether or not we could have a licience for the rest of our lives. Dramatic I know, but I am Bo Peep...and hopefully you get the idea...
There were extenuating circumstances, which although not extreme certainly could not be ignored and were backed up with evidence from our Head Teacher. Including an occurance at the test centre on the day of the NVR which the LEA tried to wriggle out of. When we first put it to them and asked them for confirmation that it had happened, they said, 'ha! If a child even sneezes we know about it, and for you to suggest that something as serious as that took place....well, we're not saying your son is lying, but...'
Anyway - we had no reason to doubt our son - so persisted. They made us write full reports etc, and then eventually begrudgingly admitted that it had happened...BUT they still refused to put it in writing...so we had quite a battle on our hands. EVENTUALLY they did not confirm the incident as they promised but merely referred to it in wriitng, in passing, as 'a minor incident which was quickly dealt with and did not affect your son.' I BEG TO DIFFER!
Anyway in the VR test the same thing happened, only this time during the break the incident did effect him directly - but we were not able to substantiate it since this one had not been documented.
Well...what with this and other extenuating circumstances we went to Etienne who helped us put our case together. I have to say that she is AMAZING and soooooo kind and generous....it brings tears to my eyes just thinking of her kindness.
We gathered all our academic evidence together and thought it looked pretty good...Etienne said it didn't get much better than that so we felt satisfied that our son's evidence at least gave a good picture of his true ability. His Head teacher referred to his ability as excellent, his Maths teacher gave his SAT's practice scores, rising from 90% - 98% and said that he consistently scores very highly...english teacher said he usually comes first in year group in comprehension tests and achieves very highly...Gifted and Talented for English - said he can write in a style that most adults would find tricky to achieve...passionate about science, musical, all level 5's in mock SAT's, bla bla bla....
When we said we wanted to appeal the LEA laughed at us...literally laughed down the phone! The exact words were, 'Oh you parents, you just can't except that your children can fail. You obviously have no idea of the academic standards of that school.'
Well excuse me! We actually have a son there who is doing brilliantly...but what was the point of reducing ourselves to this petty level? We stayed silent. We were then helpfully told that there has NEVER been a successful appeal for the school, but she supposed we were thinking we would be the first....'you parents always do.' ( Thank you for calling your friendly LEA....Ya'll have a nice day now.).
The Head at the grammar told our son that there had been 2 successful appeals in the 16 years of his headship....so we realised it was a mammoth mountain to climb but not an impossible one.
Well we waited....after 3 and half months we finally got a letter saying we had failed a Head Teacher's review. WHAT?
What Head Teacher's review???? We didn't even know there was going to be one. Not only that but they used our appeal bullet points, of extenuating circumstances and academic evidence and discussed it. They were bullet points - simply said things like, 'incidents occuring in both tests' How could they possibly decipher what this meant? No wonder we failed that, and how wrong to use our info without us being aware. Had we known we would have written our appeal out in full.
Then after waiting all that time for an appeal date they said...'do you want to appeal?'
We said yes and sent our appeal off a second time.
After 4 months we got an appeal date. There were 5 panel members, a clerk, the LEA rep and my husband and I in the room.
The panel were lovely - they made us as comfortable as possible, and seemed very interested in our case. They nodded a lot and agreed with us over several issues, even laughing with us at one point. They gave off a lot of positive body language.
The LEA rep struggled to find things to ask us - she was very polite and very professional, but even some of the things she said to us seemed to be helpful to our case rather than hers.
There was a big sticking point in that the LEA rep explained how we had asked for a Head Teacher's review but failed it. I pointed out that we had not asked for a review...and she said but it says clearly that children will be reviewed...and I again pointed out that this refers to pupils in the borderzone and our son was not in the borderzone. She then said, 'ahhh yes, but it also says, 'or parents who request a review' to which I answered, 'yes but we didnt request one.'
The panel didn't seem too happy about the fact that the LEA had carried out a review without informing us and wholeheartedly agreed that we would have written our appeal up in full detail had we realised.
When we left the appeal the door closed behind me and I burst into tears - it was such a relief and the fact that I had held it together, spoken slowly and clearly...my husband is a public speaker anyway and we could have left it all to him but we both wanted to be involved, so I presented academic evidence and he presented the extenuating circumstances.
We felt that we had had a very fair appeal and that the panel would make the right decision based on the evidence that they had. The LEA lady wished us luck as she left.
When we rang the next morning we heard that our appeal was declined and we would get a letter within 10 days to explain why.
Well we took it with dignity...it had been a fair appeal, they had been kind, and we had said all we could. We had to accept this and just support our son to move on from it.
Eventually the letter came....in it we were horrified...it was like a letter from another appeal entirely! They said that they took into account a number of points (all listed) raised by the LEA - out of all the points they listed only one of them had actually been raised - the others had not been referred to in either their written or spoken case!!!!!!!!!!!! This was a shock...what appeal had they been listening to?
Then they stated the main points of our appeal - which were not what we would have called the 'main points' and concluded with 'your son had set his heart on the school.' WHAT? What sort of appeal would that be if we put it down as even a point, let alone a main point.
They then said that we had not given them any reason to believe that our son would not do well in a comprehensive school....well we were not there to argue against any other school - in fact I had taken advice from Etienne about what to say if they asked us about offered schools. We were there to argue our case for the grammar not against any other school...not only that but one of the panel members is a govenor for the school we were offered but did not want...
My husband and I had felt that the appeal had been fair until we got the letter. It left a very bad taste in our mouths.
Sooooooooooooooooooooooo in conclusion...
When we had not been given a school which we felt would be good for our son, we had to strongly consider homeschooling - it was our only option. If it is wrong to send an underachieving child to grammar school (and of course we all can see the sense of that) then it must also be equally wrong to send a highly achieving child and put him in a school where teachers spend most of their time dealing with issues and problems rather than educating children - our son certainly would not have been 'stretched' there. I was heartbroken at the thought of homeschooling because our son is a sociable creature with so much to give and likes being a part of a community. But we pressed on, and I found out a lot of information about it. I had hoped that maybe we would only have to homeschool for a year or so until we could get a place in a good school, in or out of the area.
At the end of May on our son's 11th birthday a letter came through the post saying that unexpectedly a place had come up in a church school and we had been offered that place. Apparently someone had been caught lying on their application and the place for this child had been withdrawn and offered to our son instead. What a birthday present!
However, it was not what we really wanted, nor what we envisioned for the future of our son, but this is a challenge now...a chance to prove himself, to rise above circumstances and still go out there and embrace the school and education that it offers. It is a good school with good discipline, and they say that they are committed to make sure that each child achieves his/her full potential.
When we lost our appeal we heard on Monday and on the Friday our son had his induction day at the new school. It went well and later that day we bought his school ties...I had the privalege of capturing on camera big brother teaching little brother how to do a tie...their ties were two different colours, but it was a heart warming moment - and I think this whole experience has brought our family even closer together, we have wept, prayed, laughed and worried together - and then we all stood together trusting God for the future.
So...that's my story, but you have all been so supportive...how could I not share with you all my thanks. I still don;t understand fully what went wrong, (I have completely forgiven my postman now), but we will survive. I am fully aware that there are many people who are facing problems - and some of them far more worrying than schools!
I will drop in from time to time, particularly next March to see if I can help someone the way so many of you helped me.
It is wonderful to hear how there have been successful appeals - I have been genuinely thrilled to read about the successes but also can enter into the pain of not winning an appeal...
My last thanks must go to Etienne - you are an angel Etienne. Thank you sooo much for all the encouragement, wisdom and experience you shared with me and with so many of us on this site. You deserve more recognition than you get.
Oooh now look how long I've gone on!
Well, as my beloved grandmother used to say, 'when life hands you lemons - make lemonade!'
Thank you all - and thanks to the management of this site - you bring so much help and comfort.