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Our children aren’t broken, the system is…

By Carolyn Whitehead

All of you who know me know that I left ‘the system,’ 7 years ago now and from there set about redefining the system and looking at new ways of delivering ‘the system,’ to children who don’t fit, ‘the system.’ The system we are talking about here is of course the education system, the one I left having completed my Masters Qualification to become a SENDCo and following an 11 year teaching career. I’m often asked if I miss education and am often told its a role I could always return to at any time I want having gained the skills and qualifications I have and in many respects, they are right I could. But I won’t, not in a traditional sense anyway… why… because the system is broken, its outdated and its no longer fit for purpose.

For many years whilst teaching, I had begun to feel like in order to put the children through what I put them through on a daily basis I had to turn off everything I knew and loved about children. There were numerous times where I had children in front of me who needed one thing, but that the curriculum and powers that be higher up than the school senior leadership team told me needed something different. Being constantly faced with an internal battle between knowing what was right for the children and doing what was right for the school and ‘the powers that be,’ was draining and exhausting. Knowing what I did about the children I was supporting, I was also very aware that I was potentially contributing to the mental health crisis that we see today - and there came a point that I had to make a decision, to carry on teaching, or to try something different, and the latter won.

The decision I made at the time was not an easy one by any means, but it was a decision made easier by the arrival of child number three and the cost of childcare. Even back in 2016 I was faced with the choice of go back to work and pay £1200 childcare per month and never see your children really, or don’t go back to work, potentially earn no money for 5 years but see your children a little more, do the school runs and take the hit financially. It was far from an easy choice, and it was far from perfect, but we made it work and I’m so glad that was the choice I made.

Our business - Beautiful New Beginnings CIC was born in the midst of this muddle, of me trying to work out what our future looked like, forging a path for me to work and use my skills to support others but not in the traditional teaching sense. I call it our business because it is and always has been, the business is the communities, its shaped by them and their needs, its shaped by the gaps in provision we as professionals identify and from the feedback of those 1500 families who attend sessions every quarter.

What has emerged during the past 7 years is the number of families who have little to no access to timely support, professional advice and to accessible services. I’m not just talking services and advice for children with additional needs either although I’ve an awful lot to say on that subject! I’m talking about the lack of support antenatally, postnatally, in mental health services in wellbeing services, in parental support, in SEND services, the systems that are supposed to best serve us are outdated and are no longer fit for purpose. We know that our communities have evolved massively, we know that our world has evolved significantly, yet the public services that serve our communities have remained the same, still looking very similar to how they looked in the 1950’s.

Is it any wonder the education system does not suit the majority of children now? Is it any wonder there is a huge rise in mental health issues yet no access to support? Is it any wonder home education has seen an incredible jump in number with current estimates standing at 116300 children across the UK being home educated during the 2021/22 academic year. It’s imperative that our education system undergoes the reform that it needs to firstly retain staff but most importantly to evolve to meet the needs of our children and young people. We need provision to meet the needs of the many, not the few, we need provision that provides clear pathways to employment, to real life skills based lessons not just regurgitation of facts and figures. We need to harness our children’s entrepreneurial spirits and teach them the ways they can forge paths for themselves based on their own strengths, skills and knowledge. We need to do things differently, and we need to do it quickly, because it’s not our children that need to ‘keep up,’ ‘work harder,’ ‘make progress,’ its the system and the powers that be that control that system.

I’ll say it again - our children are not broken, we are not broken, the system is.

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