Why we all leapt into the shower

20th March 2009 at 00:00

Six-year-old Amid came to us from a school in a neighbouring authority. He was continually in trouble, his work had suffered, and he'd become rude at home. His mother had tried our school originally, but lived too far away. Now I could offer a place. We found Amid difficult, too, but a year with an exceptional teacher changed him completely.

"My mum likes this school," he said proudly one morning. "She says my brother's going to start in September."

And that would have been fine. Except that his brother, Rahmid, had extreme special needs. Born prematurely, with a section of gut missing, he wasn't expected to survive, but surgeons effected a partial solution by connecting his stomach to a colostomy tube and feeding him using a special machine. The first three years of his life had been precarious, but he progressed and was able to attend a nursery for a year. At which point Mum decided he should come to us.

Our Senco and I visited his nursery. He was constantly supervised by adults and, perhaps unsurprisingly, extremely indulged. His language, when he couldn't do as he wanted, could best be described as ripe.

We had a dilemma. We felt unable to admit a child with such extreme needs. Compared with the space at his nursery, our reception classrooms were tiny. His statement of special needs didn't offer many support hours, and we'd need an extremely capable support assistant. Although we'd been told Rahmid was incontinent only occasionally, we weren't convinced. And we were unhappy about the feeding machine - which the class teacher and support assistant would have to work. What if it went wrong?

We decided to make a stand. I refused to take Rahmid without adequate support, annoying the nursery he was attending because the staff were unwilling to keep him there. In a bid to hurry matters forward, the local authority offered additional money, but not full-time support. Again I refused.

I was then visited by people from the town hall, who weren't very happy. Inclusion of children with extreme special needs is a popular government theme these days, and I was refusing to include. I pointed out that inclusion was fine by me, but not without money and appropriate specialist support. I wasn't prepared to do it on the cheap, and that was that.

But I did have a suggestion. We had a disused shower room. If the local authority funded its refurbishment to cope with Rahmid's incontinence, and it paid for full-time support, I'd guarantee Rahmid the schooling he deserved. Since Mum refused to consider any other school, and I wasn't budging, the officials agreed and Rahmid joined us in the summer term to acclimatise.

We had a hell of a time. The incontinence was far worse than expected, we couldn't find a suitable support worker, and the feeding machine often broke down.

Furthermore, now that he was with us, the support agencies seemed to have lost interest and we were on our own. Nevertheless, the skill and dedication of his young class teacher and the Senco worked wonders, and we began to see huge changes in Rahmid.

Once the shower room was ready, things took a leap forward, especially as he was able to come off the feeding machine during the day.

Three years later, and anyone visiting his classroom would find a happy little boy - warm, caring, and enthusiastic about learning. His mother tells me he often wakes her early in the morning and whispers, "Is it time for school yet?"

Sometimes, it really pays to dig your heels in.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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