How the system has let down Laura

4th November 2005 at 00:00
"What does today begin with?" The child looks towards me and at the board I am holding. "That's 'T' isn't it, Laura? 'T' for Tuesday." "Oh yes, I forgot that one. Is it playtime yet?"

"No, not yet Laura."

Laura writes a huge "T" on the top line of her literacy book. She sticks her tongue out as she continues to join the whole date together as one word. When I point this out she thinks for a moment. "But I like to write joined up."

This has taken us nearly 10 minutes. Now I have just over 15 minutes left for her to write and understand the topic for today, which, ironically, is "instructions". There is no point in my expecting Laura to continue independently. She will sit beside me and we will labour over each point, with her input written down on my whiteboard. At the end of the process she will try to get as much written down as possible until my time is up.

Laura is small and looks younger than her nine years.She is working at reception level, having struggled from day one in mainstream education.

However, according to the curriculum, "differentiation" is enough for a child like Laura. In a perfect world, where everything is fair, she would be put forward for a statement. If she had articulate, middle-class parents she would not be allowed to slip through the holes in our overloaded education system. But she is the child of immigrant parents. She speaks no English at home and she has a mother and sister with learning difficulties.

Her genetic make-up is against her; the system is against her.

Teachers have written reports, assessments have been made, but, as we know, it can take up to a year for a statement to be processed. By this time Laura will be almost at the end of her time at primary school. I have seen many like her. At the end of Year 6 they are normally dispatched with little luggage of learning to the next school, where they will again sit in a corner waiting their turn with an overloaded, underpaid learning support assistant.

There are few special schools locally; some children have to travel more than 20 miles. But I have visited one ex-pupil who has a place in a wonderful school where the "special" children are nurtured, valued and taught useful things such as cookery, design and technology, and woodwork.

They are encouraged and supported through secondary education and have realistic targets. If Laura is not designated a special school, she will be catapulted away from this safe, cocooned environment into the local comprehensive.

I will continue to fight the corner of this needy little girl, but I am angry at a system that discriminates against children like her. I am glad Baroness Warnock has made a U-turn regarding special needs education, calling for a "radical revolution" and admitting that "different children have radically different needs". Laura is testament to this.

Marian Colyer

Laura's name has been changed. Marian Colyer is an LSA in Aylesbury, Bucks

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