Local authorities and parents have been struggling to find alternative schools for children who had been attending the Royal School for Deaf Children since it closed down suddenly in December. Some of these parents talk to Kevin Watson about how they only heard about the school’s closure by email on the day it shut its doors and how their children have been faring since.
“Archie keeps asking about going back to Margate”
Archie has CHARGE syndrome and complex needs – he is deaf and has poor balance and learning difficulties.
Archie went to a mainstream infant’s school from the age of four but his parents realised he wouldn’t be able to cope in a mainstream junior school. He needed a school that was experienced in dealing with pupils with Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI). Margate school fitted the bill and the family moved across the country so that he could attend there but would not have to board.
Andrea explained: “It took him a while to settle but the staff worked hard getting to know him and how he “ticked”. But we were happy to see him at a school that he enjoyed, and where he was safe, understood and stimulated to learn.”
“We were happy to see him at a school that he enjoyed, and where he was safe, understood and stimulated to learn”
Andrea did, however, have some reservations about the schooling that Archie received there: “Some of the teachers really got Archie and worked well with him with good results but unfortunately some of the teachers were not really prepared for dealing with challenging behaviour and severe learning difficulties, so they struggled a bit with him.”
“The school was having to adapt very quickly: the move to mainstreaming most children who were ‘just deaf’ meant the pupils coming in to school were more complex.”
Despite that Archie was settled and happy. Until the events that led to the sudden closure late last year. His parents had some idea that all was not well at the school but nothing
could have prepared them for the email they received on a Friday afternoon two weeks before Christmas saying the school had closed. “We were in total shock that this could happen. And we were very angry – on behalf of the children, and all the staff. It was a terrible way for the situation to be handled – a terrible thing for the kids.”
What about the effect on Archie? “He has very limited understanding, and of course we knew he would be upset, so for a week or two we just told him he was on Christmas holidays. But he knew something wasn’t right as they hadn’t had their Christmas show. A few days before Christmas he asked about going back to school, so I had to tell him school had closed. He keeps asking. He will ask for many months yet. It made him angry, worried and frustrated.
“He’d been going there for 10 years, and he’s a person who really needs routine, really loves the familiar: and all of a sudden he and all the other students were effectively kicked out of school with no notice, no goodbyes and no explanation.”
“All of a sudden Archie and all the other students were effectively kicked out of school with no notice, no goodbyes and no explanation”
Andrea told BDN of the effect it all had on her: “After a day or two of feeling quite tearful and upset and worrying that I wouldn’t be able to cope, I pulled myself together and got on with it. You have to! As parents of someone with a severe disability I think we have become used to these ups and downs – although this was a very major one.”
Since January Archie has been at Stone Bay School in Broadstairs, a specialist school for students with ASD and communication difficulties. He has settled in well but it is early days.
“Stone Bay are very good with communication and behaviour, but have not had to deal with a deaf student before (or one with CHARGE Syndrome). We are lucky, as Archie uses speech and PECs and not BSL, so they were able to take him quickly,” says Andrea.
“We are lucky, as Archie uses speech and PECs and not BSL, so they were able to take him quickly”
“I am hoping that he continues to settle into his new school. He is 18 now, so he only has one more year of school to go. I hope that he can enjoy it and that his teachers can get to understand what a funny and mischievous person he can be. I also hope that it doesn’t mean his transition to adult services when he’s 19 is made harder.”