Three Years of Madness

Beech Hill School, where I undertook my probationary year, crushed me. It was a 52 place Nursery and my neurotypical line manager was a twisted bully who turned the other Nursery staff against me. Her bombastic, child-blind methods were like drinking poison. I departed traumatized, only to live through a nightmarish summer which saw my autistic son abscond from the house one morning at 4am -- by chance, he was rescued by our milkman who found him running naked down the middle of a nearby main road whilst cars sped by oblivious. It still took my bastard of a landlord, a housing association, several months to fit key-coded locks to the external doors.

The next school year started with better promise.

I had reverted to practicing tradition forms of Muslim piety and I found myself doing regular supply work at Darton Primary School, with Head Jackie Glass providing support and inspiration in a rapidly improving school. It was the first time I had taught at length across the primary age range, including a week with a very challenging Year 5/6 class and an extension Mathematics class for Level 5 pupils.

But it was not to last. In November, an Special Educational Needs (SEN) Tribunal supported the Local Education Authority's (LEA) decision to move Joel to a local Primary Autism Unit managed by a teacher in whom we had little trust, although the Tribunal did award full-time support. However, a dispute over transition blew up, and the millennium year begun in utter despair, with Joel being educated otherwise.

Teaching Joel at home was not the joy it had been first-time round. His old school, much as I suspected, had imbued Joel with an aversion to education. Moreover, he had become excessively passive, withdrawn and dependent on adults to learn anything. It was a time of getting to know Joel again, and much of the teaching time involved de-schooling him, mostly by working outdoors, although our studies were severely frustrated by the foot and mouth outbreak and the consequently closure of almost all local public footpaths. Shortly before the beginning of the summer holidays, much to my relief, Joel started at the Primary Autism Unit.

But the dispute was far from resolved. Having exhausted official channels, I was now determined to get Joel into a specialist autism school by whatever means necessary. Conflict piled upon conflict. By now, I had involved myself with a family of a child with AS (Asperger Syndrome) and OCB (Obsessive Compulsive Behaviours), who were locked into an equally fraught dispute with their LEA. The child had not attended school in over 3 years, following a violent attack by a gang of pupils in the playground during which his collar bone was fractured. The situation was aggravated by an at least one thoroughly mendacious officer working within the Children’s Directorate. The child had refused access from other teachers, on at least one occasion as a result of the teacher’s utter failure to understand the nature of autistic spectrum disorders.

Working in partnership with the family, their solicitor and barrister, and also the child, I was finally employed under a High Court Order, on 30th October, 2001.

Teacher SNS+3 Oct. 2001- April 2002

Calderdale Schools and Children’s Directorate
Northgate House

Professional Responsibilities:

  • Working in partnership with Head of Autism Service to assess needs of a pupil with AS and OCB
  • Planning and implementing differentiated curriculum for KS3 pupil with AS and OCB, delivered primarily through ICT
  • Liaising with Head of Autism Service to purchase ICT and other educational resources
  • Working in close partnership with parents on a day-to-day basis
  • Working in partnership with other agencies as appropriate
This was unlike any teaching job I had ever done before. I developed a facilitative, firmly child-centred approach to working with J., and I came to enjoy his company immensely. I gained particular satisfaction in introducing him to the world of computers. However, the position was impossible to maintain. The family had been so long embroiled in conflict that it had become a way of life for them. The Directorate, on their part, hid behind public service culture to be obstructive at almost every turn. The support of the Directorate's Autism service, for what it was worth, was also late in coming, where it was clear from the start I had been briefed against as a ‘gold-digger’, due to my efforts in securing extra hours and a higher grade for the post. I eventually resigned, on 16th April 2002, in order to become Joel’s primary carer.

Househusband & Carer

When I recall my last teaching post, I think of Mulla Dopiazza – a comic pseudonymous invention of the Sufi Idries Shah -- and his definition of a fool: ‘a man trying to be honest with the dishonest’. I had done my utmost to be honest and maintain a sense of personal integrity while working for Calderdale, but with half the players intent on holding the devious card, I had found myself unable to teach without distraction, and with no budget or access to meaningful support, the job eventually to turned into a debacle. I felt I had betrayed pupil with my naivety, arrogance and lack of authority, and soon developed clinical depression.

The next 12 months were the worst year of my life and I put my partner and my children through hell for most of it.

Being a househusband and carer was simply not enough. Mind busy mind requires stimulation! Salvation eventually came through a return to learning, but not before much indecision. First I was offered a place at University to read for a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies, which I declined to take up due to issues of time, cost and travel. Next I dappled with an Open University (OU) course in the arts. I was also moderating a successful email discussion forum for people with an interest in educating children with autism. But where to go? Irresolution, as I discovered watching an OU programme on social sciences, is not uncommon amongst people who become unexpectedly or suddenly unemployed. Finally, things began to come together, and almost a year after becoming Joel's primary carer, I started the OU D820 The Challenge of the Social Sciences.

It was the beginning of a long personal and intellectual adventure that eventually led me here.

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