Sometimes it’s easy to get ahead of yourself with planning and to make assumptions based on what you think may occur.
This is what happened recently with M and J’s new schools. I had assumed that J would settle in really well at secondary school, as he was so excited and keen to go, and that M would be the one who would struggle with the transition into 6th Form.
Actually, M loves 6th form; the different experience of being treated as a semi-adult, the freedom of being able to use a mobile phone during school hours and being able to leave the premises. She’s also making good use of the free periods (which means she gets her homework done during the day rather than bringing it home which has always been a contentious area for her).
M has found the new subjects interesting and they’ve been sparking debates at home and an interest in the world around her, which I hadn’t really expected.
On the other hand, J appears to be struggling in the new environment of secondary school. Initially in the first week or two he settled in really well, and even brought a couple of friends home from school, but I sense he is now feeling isolated and is floundering a little.
Looked after children are entitled to Pupil Premium, which is a set amount dependent on the child’s age and it can be used to help them with practical items in school or with educational needs and support.
For example, it might be used to fund a teacher’s assistant in the classroom if a student is struggling, or it may be used for more therapeutic purposes such as counselling or time with a psychologist. M is no longer entitled to Pupil Premium as it’s only available up to Year 11 in most schools, but when she was entitled it was used for residential school trips and a laptop. M rejected the possibility of counselling completely and refused to consider any talking therapies.
It is worth noting that although Pupil Premium stops at Year 11, there is room for negotiation with some schools, if they have the resources. In most cases, they may agree to fund a specific item after Year 11 or agree to a bursary.
I’ve had a brief meeting with J’s new Head of Year at the beginning of the term and a PEP (Personal Education Plan) is planned just before half term to review how he’s getting on. One of the problems J is finding is that he is regularly being pulled out of class to go and speak to a counsellor or the looked after children’s key worker.
He is finding this is singling him out and he doesn’t want the label of being in care. Unlike M, who is profoundly secretive of her looked after status and tells everyone she lives with family, J has accepted the status of being in care but would prefer it not be broadcast.
For instance, his form are planning a day trip out to a local historical site and the form teacher mentioned a bit too loudly that he wouldn’t need to pay. One of the other students picked up on this and has made assumptions that his family are receiving benefits and consequently he was subject to bullying and ridicule.
J had to make the decision whether he felt the stigma of being in care was worse than the perceived stigma of receiving benefits.
Since then he’s tried to find excuses not to go to school, a tummy ache one-day, trying to cough the next day and generally dragging his feet. We had a chat about why he doesn’t want to go to school and he eventually told me more or less how he feels.
One of the points he made was the school was so noisy and busy and everybody is so big! To those children coming up from primary school to Year 7 it must feel overwhelming; going to a much larger school, finding yourself being the youngest, and just trying to find where your classes are, let alone making new friends and settling in to a harder, more intense curriculum.
We talked about how it will take time to settle in, and how different he’ll feel in a few weeks when things have settled down. J talked about making friends and he did say there were one or two boys he’d like to spend some time with and there are a few boys that have come up from his primary school, but they are in a different form to him.
I told him it takes time to make new friends and I suggested he might want to think about joining a club at lunchtime or after school? J mentioned an assembly they had all attended which informed the students which clubs were available, but he said there are so many and he didn’t know where to go or who to speak to.
J and I sat down and we made a list of the things he enjoys doing and how to ask if there was a club he could join. We narrowed it down to football, making things, and coding.
I pointed out to J that although everybody else might look confident they are probably just as nervous as he is, and he still has all his friends from primary school. Just because some of them don’t go to his new school doesn’t mean he still can’t see them.
On Monday he came home from school and said he has joined a Year 7 only football club and there is a Lego club that he’s really excited about. He was virtually bouncing up and down and couldn’t get his words out fast enough as he told me about the Lego club.
J told me he had put all his Lego away as he thought it was just for little kids, but they make some really cool stuff. I had a big feeling of relief as he explained the different mechanical moving creations some members of the club had made. He is yet to explore his interest in coding, but he is happy to wait as he wants to see if he’ll get picked for the football team.
It’s not all resolved, as he still feels out of place and concerned what some of the other children might think of him being in care, but he does seem happier. In the meantime we have invited 2 old friends from his primary school over for a pizza and movie night at the weekend.
The one thing that I fully expected to have concerns about has not happened: homework. It was always a constant battle with M. However, J likes to get it over and done with as soon as possible rather than procrastinate. He is so keen to get it done that he’s rushing it and a few times we’ve had to go over and see where we could improve it.
In spite of his initial concerns I think J is gradually settling into secondary school and will soon even enjoy it.