Jayne Dowle: Post that brought elation as school instincts pay off

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MY son Jack breaks up for his summer holidays at the end of this week. I can’t believe that we were fretting about his primary school prom this time last year. I can’t believe how worried I was, too.

Jack is one of the youngest children in his school year. He won’t turn 12 until August, so he has always been at a disadvantage. Until now, he has struggled at school. He has had difficulties with concentration and finds it hard to translate his thoughts into written words, an ironic state of affairs for the son of someone who makes her living doing just that.

It was even more important that he went to the right secondary school for him. That’s why I chose the local academy rather than the huge new shiny comprehensive.

I liked the idea that its educational ethos supports the individual child, and that it is tough on discipline and bullying. And I also like the fact that it is a relatively small school – just 850 pupils – and is close to where we live. I’m far from an indulgent parent, but I knew that Jack would need more support than most to make the transition from primary to secondary education. I went with the flow for far too long at primary school and it got us nowhere. This time around, I wanted to make a principled stand. That’s why I thought an academy would be best.

Imagine how I felt 12 months ago. It was like jumping off the edge of a cliff. And imagine how I feel now, when I read a recent post on Jack’s Facebook page. I want to share it with you in full, not just because it will give heart to all those other parents worrying about their babies going to big school, but also because it proves that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear about academy schools.

In the last few months, we’ve heard nothing but damning reports. Indeed, my son’s own school underwent a terrible Ofsted inspection earlier this year. Is there a political agenda here? Who really knows the truth, obscured as it is with smoke and mirrors and the endless war of attrition between Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, and the educational establishment.

However, when the flak starts flying, it takes parental nerves of steel to stick with it. All I can say is put your own feelings aside and think of your child. Whatever kind of school they go to, you have to ask some serious questions. Is it the right school for them? Are they happy and secure in their learning environment? Do they enjoy the work that they do and see the point of doing it? Have they made friends and do they feel part of the school community?

Given the mess education is in right now, it is even more important that we learn to follow our own instincts and trust our own judgments. We can’t trust anyone else to do it for us.

Well, read this and see what you think – this is what Jack decided to share with the world: “Even though it is not quite the end of the school year I just want to say it has been the best school year of my life met loads of new friends and had some great times – feeling happy.”

We will leave aside the matter of punctuation for a moment. I learned a long time ago that it is more constructive to praise his positive achievements than come down hard on the negative. For my son, who a year ago could barely write a birthday card, never mind put together a full sentence, this represents progress on a scale never seen before. And for him to feel prompted to say this on his own Facebook page, with no encouragement from anyone, is simply breathtaking.

I wanted to send it to every teacher at his school who has taken the trouble to support him and to find out what makes him tick. I wanted to send it to every teacher who is ending this term feeling beleaguered and battered and disillusioned with the whole idea of educating our children. And I wanted to send it to every teacher I met at parents’ evening the other week who told me that Jack tries his best in every lesson and according to his official reports, is making outstanding progress. This is not a parental brag. It’s relief and elation, two words never before associated with my son and school.

Let the politicians pontificate. Let the doom-mongers predict the very worst that could happen. If I spent my days fretting over things that I have no control over, I would drive myself mad. What really matters to me is the happiness of my child. In the end, it will be him who has to go out and make his own way in the world. All I ask is that his school prepares him for this.