For many parents whose children are survivors of serious violent or sexual crimes, school and education in general is a source of huge anxiety. Parents face pressure to maintain their child’s attendance and attainment and attempt to encourage, cajole and insist that their child continues with education as before.
Threats of fines and even court appearances for non-attendance add additional pressure. Fears of bullying, their child falling behind with education and having their life chances ruined mean that many parents attempt to ‘carry on as before.’ For some children, this is the right thing to do. Maintaining routine, continuing to see friends and having something positive to think about help to build resilience. For others, it’s just too much.
Your loved one’s health is more important than anything else.
This part of our website has information, suggestions and resources that may help if you have a child of school-age or support an adult who is in further or higher education or considering university or college. There is also information about your own education choices.
Education and Healthcare Plans (EHCP)
Education and healthcare plans are not just for children who struggle with their studies from an academic perspective. If your child is finding school difficult because of a physical or mental health problem then there is provision within the EHCP framework for your child to get additional support in school.
There is different information and systems depending on where you live in the UK. The important thing to note is that the process can be started by you as a parent – you do not need to wait until the school contacts you about it. EHCPs can continue to age 25 for young people who stay in a further education setting.
- Ipsea (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) provides information to parents in England
- Enquire provide information in Scotland
- Snapcymru offer the same advice in Wales and
- Senac is where to look in Northern Ireland.
Getting to and from school can be highly stressful. If your child uses school or public transport it is often only minimally supervised, noisy and crowded. Often it’s where hierarchies and bullying are acted out and any child who is distressed or anxious can feel isolated in a sea of noisy, seemingly happy or popular children. School transport usually takes a long time to wind its way round the various small towns or villages which means it takes considerably longer than a straightforward journey. It’s no wonder that children who are dealing with trauma find such journeys really hard.
Children who live more locally and can walk or cycle may also find the journey to and from school frightening. During the journey they might be worried about who they will encounter, it may trigger anxieties about the crimes that have been committed against them and if they are anxious about what will happen at school, the anxiety may build to near panic the closer they get. School arrival and departure times are frenetic, noisy and if a child is feeling anxious or insecure may be completely overwhelming.
- If your child uses school transport, find out from the school what arrangements they have in place to greet children with additional needs from the bus and if there is a place your child can go if they need some space. If there are no arrangements in place, ask for it to be set up. Ensure that your child is seen to get onto the bus at the end of the day. Meet them at the stop if that helps.
- Children who walk or cycle may need to be accompanied for longer than their peers. They may appreciate you either coming right into school with them sometimes and on other occasions, stopping before you get to the school and letting them walk alone for the last bit. Allow your child to be in control of this.
- You may find that your child finds either going to school or coming back from school more difficult that the other. In the morning, the issue is usually anxiety and in the afternoon, exhaustion. Compromise and either drive them to school and encourage them to come home on the transport or vice versa. This will also reduce the length of their day.
- Talk to the school and local authority about alternative provision if your child simply cannot cope with anything other than being driven or accompanied to school. Whilst this might be appropriate when your child is very young, if you are having to drive your secondary-aged child to and from school it will eat into your day, cost a fortune and could make it even harder for you to work, for example. It’ll be a fight – inevitably – but with the support of your GP or Mental Health service, it may be possible to arrange for a taxi to take your child to and from school. You’ll need to specify the reasons and the provision required accurately. For example, if reducing the length of the school day is a priority, it isn’t going to help if your child is put on a minibus that takes 12 other children home first.
- Transport isn’t part of the EHCP provision although children with EHCPs generally fare better when it comes to getting alternative school transport agreed.
- Evidence such as inability to attend school because of anxiety or distress caused by school transport – and with this as the stated reason for absence, may add weight to your argument.
Bullying in itself can be a violent act that leaves children physically and emotionally scarred. Children who suffer other forms of trauma are vulnerable because of their difference and that can make them easy targets for bullies. Sadly, some children who are survivors of violent or sexual crimes become bullies themselves as they attempt to deal with issues such as control, anger and impulsivity. It’s very unlikely that your child will be the only one in a school who is a victim of serious sexual or violent crime so if your child is being bullied, there is unfortunately, every chance that the bully will have had to deal with significant trauma themselves.
If you ask my now-adult child which affected them more – the rape or the subsequent bullying he was subjected to at school – he’ll tell you it was the bullying.
Bullying is extremely complex and stopping or preventing it, isn’t as simple as punishing the bullies which is why many schools seem to fail to tackle it in any meaningful way. The information from the Anti-bullying Alliance is a good place to start. Bullying alone can leave children suicidal so if your child is dealing with surviving a sexual or violent crime, they will really struggle with any additional distress.
Get control of your wifi and switch it off when you go to bed. Supervise your children’s electronic devices and – for as long as you can – don’t allow them to be used in bedrooms or alone. Make sure you know their passwords for all social media and make it a condition of owning any electronics that you know all of these and that phones and tablets live in your bedroom overnight. Kids use different social media to adults – make sure you know how the ones your child uses work – it isn’t all about Facebook anymore. There are lots of good links to additional information about Cyberbullying in this fact sheet.
Alternatives to school
For some traumatised children school is no longer something they can tolerate in its traditional form. If your child is unwell, either physically or dealing with mental health issues, it’s good practice to document this via your GP. Children who are absent for any length of time on simply the parents’ word, will come under intense scrutiny due to unauthorised absence.
Children do not have to ‘go to school’ but they are required to receive an education. There are a number of options and the local authority has a duty to ensure that children receive an education provision that is appropriate to their needs. This can actually be to parents’ advantage if their current school provision isn’t working . However, in order to ensure that the local authority complies with the law, it’s essential that parents do too in terms of absence so before you stop sending your child to school, make sure you document the reasons why and inform both the school, the local authority and any medical support your child is getting.
Home schooling – children can be educated at home but you will very likely at some point need to be able to evidence that an education is being provided. It doesn’t have to follow the curriculum of a school however which means you can be more creative. Education Otherwise has information about home and flexi-schooling. This may be an option if you aren’t working and for many families it’s a fantastic experience but if it isn’t for you – don’t think it’s your only option if they aren’t going to school. Don’t be intimidated into off-rolling your child if this isn’t what you want.
Reduced curriculum – sometimes simply reducing the number of days a child attends, or the number of subjects (and thus exams) an older child takes can be enough to reduce stress and anxiety. Starting later in the day or attending for mornings only can also help, for example. Schools may find this a struggle to accommodate because of timetabling, especially for older children and if there are gaps within the school day they might make life difficult if they are required to supervise a child who isn’t in lessons – but persevere. Ultimately, your child is entitled to an education that meets their needs.
Pupil referral units and education from the local authority at home – both of these options exist but experience shows that provision can be patchy and especially for home tutors, the education provided is minimal, usually just English and Maths. It is probably better to fight for an EHCP and use that to specify the type, location and style of education required. Once this is contained within an EHCP it is legally binding.
Who's who in schools
Schools are certainly very different places to twenty years ago. More priority and funding is given to pastoral care and the structure of schools places more focus on pupil well-being with senior management holding responsibility safeguarding and special educational needs.
Unfortunately, the pressures on schools through testing, inspection and league tables, means that schools focus on exam results which is absolutely fine for those children who have no additional needs. Schools try to support children with mental health or recovering from trauma but the process of training teachers and the demand on their time means that there are significant gaps in knowledge and understanding. Given that, it’s a good idea for parents and carers to have a very clear idea of who to talk to about their child and how to ensure that they are safe. Your own anxiety will be eased if you are confident that you will be confident if your child is struggling and that they know the signs to look for.
The headteacher is in overall charge of the strategic direction of the school. In larger schools, their day-to-day relationship with pupils is inevitably limited but they are undoubtedly the first person you should speak to if your child is a survivor of violent or sexual crime. They will be able to direct you to the correct members of staff who are responsible for safeguarding, additional needs and pastoral care for your child.
The safeguarding lead is often the headteacher but may be a different member of staff (or even two) if the school is large. There are very strict safeguarding protocols with reporting, disclosure or raising concerns about safeguarding issues that have to be followed by law. This means that if your child discloses sexual or violent crime in school then then protocols must be followed, that are unlikely to involve telling you what your child has said. However, in general the process moves fast to ensure children are kept safe. If your child self-harms or is at risk of overdose, running away, hiding, or other dangerous situations, safeguarding staff should be involved in risk assessments and plans to keep your child safe.
The Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) is responsible for ensuring that the educational requirements of children with additional needs are met. Commonly, this is children who have a learning difference, difficulty or disability but it also includes children with physical, medical or mental health needs. The reality is that whilst schools and SENCOs are experienced in managing the needs of children with dyslexia or a learning difficulty, for example, they are not so well informed about supporting children who are victims of sexual or violent crime, those with significant mental health needs or their parents. Many schools are overwhelmed with children who have mild to moderate mental health difficulties and referrals to children’s mental health (CAMHS) pathways are generally clogged and have huge waiting lists. It’s probably realistic to say that you will need to help the school devise care plans, protocols and ways to protect and support your child whilst in school – if you wait for CAMHS or other official structures such as Team Around the Child to get organised it may well be too late for your child. Getting an EHCP in place will release funding to the school but also set up a legal structure about what should be done to support your child in school. It is very much worth beginning the process to setting this up before things reach crisis point, or you are having significant difficulties.
In primary schools, the class teacher, plus any learning support assistants within that class, often manage pastoral care. In larger primary schools, there maybe dedicated staff who carry out this role, and maybe involved in nurture groups or small group support. Quite often, these members of staff are not ‘teachers’ but experienced learning assistants and qualified in child development or youth work. In secondary school, pastoral support may be provided through forms, houses or a dedicated pastoral support team. Establishing a good relationship with the pastoral support in school is hugely advantageous because they will likely have the most contact with your child on a day-to-day basis. They can also help to circumnavigate attendance issues, lateness or other absence, that might trigger unhelpful scrutiny so maintaining regular contact with the pastoral support staff allocated to your child will be beneficial.
The governing body of a school is required to hold the headteacher and senior management of the school to account. If you have to make a complaint about the conduct or competence of staff at the school, it is the governing body who will ultimately deal with the complaint, if it isn’t resolved by teaching staff. The Chair of Governors should be contactable through the school should you have any concerns you need to raise about the headteacher.
Revision, coursework and exams can be hard for all children, young people and adults alike. However, if your loved one is a survivor of sexual or serious violent crime then disrupted sleep patterns, changes in routine and additional pressure can make them all the more difficult. As suggested above, reducing the curriculum can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s important that if your loved one is unwell on the day of the exam, or unable to sit the exams to ensure that you contact your GP straightaway and get written evidence of this. It is possible for pupils to be given a grade based on their predicted results or mock exams. In addition, people who attend for the exams but take them in difficult circumstances (such as in hospital or after recently being in hospital) can have these circumstances taken into consideration and their marks may receive a small uplift. Extensions can also be provided for any coursework that may be needed but again, you’ll need to arrange for medical evidence. Lack of sleep and poor mental health are valid medical reasons so don’t be afraid to contact your GP. This is true across the spectrum of academic settings, including college and university.
If your child finds the thought of a large exam hall intimidating or needs to use the toilet or take a break during an exam, it is possible for some children to take their exams in smaller rooms and may be permitted to step out for fresh air or to calm themselves.
The Exams Officer at your child’s school or college is an expert in all aspects of exams and the regulations so is the best person to contact.
University and higher education
Many parents worry that their child will not reach their academic potential and that University will be out of reach for their child, particularly if their education was disrupted or their child is continuing to live with physical or mental health disabilities. The good news is that there are many opportunities for children to restart their education regardless of their age. There is also considerable support available for disabled students and this includes those with mental health challenges. Adult learners (generally over 21) are not usually expected to have completed traditional A levels or BTEC qualifications and there is a great deal more flexibility.
Disabled Student Allowances are designed to remove barriers to education. This can include for example, mentor support, computer equipment, software that makes note taking simpler or transport. Disabled Students are also entitled to keep some of the benefits they receive, the DSA is an allowance, not a loan and the maintenance loan can be bigger as well.
Access to Higher Education courses allow adults of any age to complete a diploma that is widely accepted and desirable at most universities. Fircroft College, Northern College and Hillcroft College (women only) offer residential courses that include a high level of pastoral support as well as the opportunity to live away from home.
Many universities, including some of the very top UK universities run programmes aimed at widening participation. Usually this includes a foundation year before starting on the degree course but these count as Higher Education so students are entitled to the same accommodation, disabled student allowance and finance. There are so many options depending on the location, type of course and disadvantage your child has experienced that UCAS is the best place to start to narrow down your choices. Oxford, Cambridge, London and Durham Universities all offer these opportunities so be ambitious if that’s right for your child.
Your own education
There is support available to carers who wish to return to study or start courses. Information from UCAS is a good place to start and there are links to information from Carers Trust there as well.
In addition, many local carers organisations and local authorities offer training that focuses on your caring role. This could be help with dealing with challenging behaviour, understanding your loved ones condition, managing stress or dealing with alcohol or drug issues. The reality, of course, is that these courses often require you to travel away from home and that can make attendance difficult if leaving your loved one is a challenge. There maybe some value in an online course if that is the case.
Need to make a complaint about education?
If you are unhappy about the way your child is being treated or educated in school and raising the concern the teacher or staff member directly involved has not resolved it, make an appointment to see the Headteacher and make it clear you are making an official complaint. Ask for a copy of their complaints procedure.
If your complaint is about the Headteacher, then get the contact details of the Chair of Governors as well as a copy of the school’s complaints procedure.
If your complaint is about Special Educational Needs provision (including any informal support that has been put in place, the information from:
- IPSEA details how to deal with this in England.
- This information from Enquire provides information about raising concerns in Scotland
- Snapcymru offer advice on challenging decisions
- Senac will will help in Northern Ireland.
The information on this page of our website explains why people don’t complain… and why they should if they are unhappy with a service they’ve received.
It took us a long time to accept that we couldn’t ‘have it all.’ Despite all the pressure from school, society and our inner voice telling us that her education was important. In the end, something had to give and we had to accept that her health was far more important than her education.
What’s different nowadays is that there are so many options and possibilities to catch up, either through college or access courses. Some of the top universities offer places to over 21s who’ve been disadvantaged as children so we know that when the time is right, and when she’s healthy, there will be another chance.
Find out about our training for schools and colleges
Restitute offer training for staff in schools and colleges – bespoke to your needs. This can be for all staff or alternately more in depth training for SENCOs, DSLs and specialist support staff.