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School threatening to expel because of poor attendance due to severe anxiety

(21 Posts)
chartreuse Thu 26-Apr-18 08:31:10

Ds is 17 and in 5th year. He has severe dyslexia and since he started secondary he has struggled with anxiety. He had CBT in first year which helped him and he found TY fairly relaxed and he managed well.

I was nervous about 5th year and the LC stress, and although he started well his anxiety has been getting progressively worse since Christmas. Through our GP we found a psychologist, and miraculously he agreed to see her, but we had a 3 month wait to get a regular appointment. He started about a month ago and is finding the process very stressful. He missed one appointment because he had such a severe panic attack that he vomited in the car while outside her office. He is really trying and desperately wants to have a 'normal' life.

The school have always been very supportive and I've always kept them informed of how things are going. Since Christmas his attendance has not been great, but I try to get him in every day even if it's only at lunchtime. At least 2 days a week he is in all day, the other 3 he is in at either break or lunch. Sometimes I bring him in at break but he has an anxiety attack so we go home and I bring him back at lunchtime. Getting DS to school has become my life's work and it is exhausting.

Yesterday I had a meeting and the year head told me that unless his attendance improved he would not be allowed back for 6th year. I was stunned. I reiterated how he is doing his best to overcome the anxiety, we are all doing our best, my life revolves around it. I was so upset, I am doing everything I can to help him, now we are faced with the threat that if we don't do more, if he doesn't 'make is anxiety go away' (oh if only it were that simple') they will expel him and he will not be able to do his Leaving cert.

It seems to me that effectively they are saying that unless DS' mental health improves he will be expelled, surely that can't be legal? They also said that even if his attendance improves and he is allowed to stay that they will remove the learning supports he has in place due to his dyslexia and give them to another, more deserving pupil.

I'm really shocked by this total turnaround in the schools attitude, they had previously been very supportive and encouraging. I'm not sure what to do now, I didn't tell DS what they said, he would be devastated. He already feels a total failure (his words) for not being able to go in every day, piling on the additional pressure could be catastrophic to his mental state. He is a lovely boy, and between anxiety and dyslexia he has enough to deal with. They kept saying during the meeting how well liked he is by all his teachers but they clearly feel he's not trying hard enough. I'm absolutely baffled at their attitude to his mental health. They said there are so many in his year suffering from mental health issues, they seem to think expelling them is a good way to deal with the issue, as another friend of DS was told the same.

Any thoughts on how to handle this? Thanks smile

OP’s posts: |
PotteringAlong Thu 26-Apr-18 08:33:07

They want him gone because they know he won’t perform at gcse and don’t want his results to negatively impact their league table position.

AgentProvocateur Thu 26-Apr-18 08:38:40

I presume you’re in Scotland. I think it’s the case that after 16, schools don’t have to take pupils. My own DC stayed on for sixth year (although it was a waste of time), dropped a couple of subjects, and then was threatened with being asked to leave unless he filled his timetable up. So once they’re past compulsory education age, it’s pretty much up to the school.

chartreuse Thu 26-Apr-18 08:39:58

I see your point, but this is a school well known for inclusion and so many of the pupils have dyslexia/dyspraxia/ASD etc so league tables have never been a priority before. Maybe they are now though.

OP’s posts: |
chartreuse Thu 26-Apr-18 08:40:54

Sorry, I'm sorry in Ireland so slightly different system.

OP’s posts: |
penguinsandpanda Thu 26-Apr-18 08:42:34

That's terrible, they should be supporting him but yes I would agree they are more concerning about their performance stats than the children's welfare.

I know at primary our LEA can help - they have an exclusions / inclusions service and a special needs helpline. I would give them a call though if its an academy I'm not sure they have any power but may still have good advice. The other option is talk to school SENCO or go down complaint route though that normally doesn't end well. Might be worth looking at different schools - I know you shouldn't have to but they sound awful. I think the LEA can also provide a teacher at home but its generally very little and not subject specialists so they need to be good at teaching themselves to get reasonable grades. Education charities maybe able to advise.

chocatoo Thu 26-Apr-18 08:42:46

Maybe they think that he would be able to access more at a specialist unit? Perhaps they feel that they aren't helping him to achieve his potential (which they aren't if he isn't attending) and that more specialised professionals could help him more?

penguinsandpanda Thu 26-Apr-18 08:43:35

LEA is local education authority - don't know what your system is in Ireland but whoever is the government agency for education.

NameyMcChangeRae Thu 26-Apr-18 08:44:06

Sorry you’re going through this flowers
Is it a private school?

My understand of anxiety is it is reinforced by avoidance, I.e not going to school makes him feel safe and relieved, which reinforces that school is a scary place, and makes the anxiety worse. I think you should both try to ensure that he goes every day, unless there is a clear reason why he can’t. It’ll be hard at first, but the ‘fight or flight’ response should lessen as he gets used to going.

Realsitically, is 6th form the best place for him? Is there a more vocational course he could go on that he might thrive in?

chartreuse Thu 26-Apr-18 08:54:38

Thanks for your replies. He has been dealing with anxiety for 5 years now, he fights it as hard as he can and he knows avoidance isn't the answer so he's in school almost every day even if not for the full day.

The system is different here, the 'big' exam at the end of 6 years at secondary is very important and not sitting it will close off a huge swathe of third level options for him. He's very bright and I don't want to limit his options so severely. There's also a big stigma attached to not doing it which he would hate.

OP’s posts: |
AgentProvocateur Thu 26-Apr-18 09:36:05

Sorry - realise you posted this in Craicnec, so ignore my post. I hope you find a solution. It sounds like a very stressful situation flowers

corcaithecat Thu 26-Apr-18 09:39:58

I wonder if it would be worth trying to find a CBT trained hypnotherapist for him privately to help work out where his anxiety stems from and to help him resolve it? Most good therapists only need 2-4 appts. so you're not throwing your money away on weekly sessions for ever and a day.
I moved to Ireland from the UK and find the Junior and Leaving Cert exams pile huge amounts of pressure on the kids compared to the GCSE/A'level system in the UK because the results from every subject are lumped together and totalled to give a final result which doesn't really suit competent students who seriously struggle under exam pressure.
Is it a fairly small school or one of the newer bigger secondary's?

chartreuse Thu 26-Apr-18 10:33:02

You're right the LC is dreadful, my older dc have been through it and the stress piled on is awful. Luckily ds is creative and aiming for portfolio based art courses but he will need to combine the portfolio points with exam points, and the colleges have minimum requirements which include certain grades in English and maths, otherwise he would need to take an extra year to do a PLC course and try to get into art college 'by the back door'.

Ds is extremely bright, superior level IQ, but will be taking ordinary level papers which breaks my heart a bit. That aside, I just want him to be able to stay where he is, with his friends and familiar teachers and finish his time at school as well as he can.

This came as a bolt from the blue, it's a school that's very well known for being inclusive which seems very ironic.

I'm fairly confident that the therapist he's seeing now, who's a CBT specialist will help him, he just needs time. And not the pressure of expulsion.

OP’s posts: |
twinjocks Thu 26-Apr-18 23:41:24

I am sorry to read about this, OP - it's an extraordinarily difficult thing to be the parent in this situation - you're massively worried about your child and then - somehow you need to be strong and tough and immoveable when dealing with an school that you thought was on your side and suddenly the rug is pulled out from under your feet and they're being unreasonable. I've been there.

I know how easy it is to get sucked into the pressure of LC is the be-all and end-all but it so isn't (I speak as the parent of a child who went to a S Dublin fee-paying school and who could have achieved very highly, had s/he actually been able to sit the LC - s/he wasn't able to as it happened. The school were completely unsupportive - their bottom line was that s/he was "going to mess up their league tables"). By contrast, I have a friend whose son (in a West Dublin comp) barely went to school at all in 5th and 6th year, but every time he did, the teachers would welcome him, give him a bit of help with some of what he'd missed, say they hoped they'd see him the next day - he sat, and miraculously passed, his LC. Such a different approach.

May I suggest that you try to change your mindset about the "needing to take an extra year to do a PLC course" aspect - that is not a bad thing at all - in fact it could be the very best thing for him. Thank goodness he's not aiming for medicine or something that requires massive points. There are some real positives here for your DS (and you) - he knows what he wants to do, he has the creative talent to get there, he doesn't need massive points so when you look at it objectively, the fact that he is bright and could, given different circumstances, do really well is irrelevant. If he can just get through the exams, even at ordinary level, and pass, he will keep his options wide open. The ideal would be if the school came onside and developed a situation where the pressure is reduced and instead there is kind and steady encouragement from all sides.

Having said all that (sorry for the essay!), I do not for one moment believe that the school can actually expel him for mental heath related absences. I would contact the Dept of Education or Education Welfare Services section at Tusla straight away if the school threatens this again.

chartreuse Fri 27-Apr-18 09:22:29

Thank you Twinjocks, you totally get it, I really feel we had the rug pulled from under us, and I feel hurt as much as anything as I really thought the school were on DS' side.
I'm sorry this happened to you too, it's an awful feeling. It's seems even harder to understand given the huge focus on adolescent mental health we have now. I'm wondering if it's a cackhanded attempt at 'tough love' to push him into going to school, in which case, what the hell possessed them to think it was a good idea. This isn't a 'league tables' school, this is a school that prides itself on its inclusion and diversity, or at least it used to. My dc have been telling me for the last few years that the atmosphere has been changing, going more 'mainstream', but this seems to be a massively regressive change in approach. Honestly if I told you the school your jaw would be on the floor.

I don't at all mean to sound dismissive of PLCs, it was a badly worded attempt to explain that it's not the main route into college. I think they are fantastic and it's such progress to have an alternative route to 3rd level for kids who aren't suited to the ridiculous exam system. I'm actually not worried about what happens after the LC, it's more the fact that ds really wants to stay in school and I think everyone involved in his life should be encouraging and supporting that choice. There's one subject in particular that he could really excel at if he got some encouragement from the teacher but everyone seems to have written him off already.

Great advice about contacting the dept/Tusla, I will definitely do that. We're also going to ask the school to put it in writing. I don't see how they can without opening themselves up to legal action. On the other hand we want ds to stay there so I'm nervous about an all guns blazing approach which dh suggests. I'm kicking myself for getting so upset during the meeting, I was so shocked I was really on the back foot and there are so many points I wish I had made.

Anyway thanks for sharing your experience, I hope everything is going well for your dc 😊

OP’s posts: |
Eighttimeseight Fri 27-Apr-18 09:42:01

I was just going to say put everything in writing... Ask them to put everything in writing to you too.

Ophelialovescats Thu 14-Jun-18 10:26:00

Have you considered Home school with tutors for support?

Radyward Thu 14-Jun-18 14:59:09

Hi there. I second hypnotherapy. I know a lovely woman in Meath who is very good. Pm me if you want to go down that route
I think the school is so uncaring to you as a family. What a stressful situation. Wouldnt you love to say off with ye ! Like its so late in the yr to be kicking off too. Try the hypnotherapy and lots of hugs to you.

Radyward Thu 14-Jun-18 15:01:04

Schools get scared once you involve the dept. Which might just be what the Principal needs !!

wwwwwwwwwwwwww Tue 26-Jun-18 14:45:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

smurfy2015 Sat 30-Jun-18 16:46:11

Il give you a bit of my story as such, I had a breakdown when I was in secondary school. It was late 1980s early 90s and I ended up leaving at the end of the 4th year (transition year).

I was deeply depressed, I had been struggling during the summer between 2nd and 3rd year but in August before heading into the 3rd year,

I started collapsing on top of being depressed. It looked like I was fainting but I literally could be talking to someone and hit the floor mid-word.

Straight out like a light switch and would come on in about a minute, be dazed for a minute or 2 and back to normal then, when this had happened maybe 20-30 times a day I needed a long deep sleep which my body took wherever it was.

All my classmates had excellent 1st aid skills as recovery position was the 1st thing they/we learned in the class and they all probably had a turn at turning me and some of them protecting modesty etc. I would often end up with a pile of coats on top of me.

Between my depression which was to end up with my admittance to the local psychiatric hospital 8 times before I was 17 (when my friends were going into 5th year for context) out of the 168 days in the school calendar year,

I physically made it to school on 55 of them and of those 55 I was sent home on 38 separate days (we had agreed that I would try and keep going after each collapse if possible but after 4 collapses they would send me home) so basically I completed 17 full days of school.

The last couple of months of the school year I was on indefinite home study leave leading up to the then inter cert (that's going way back) but in consultation with my mum, school psychologist, psychiatrist, chairman of VEC board, GP and school principal who was very supportive, and myself.

it was decided that the inter cert exams would be too stressful pending I was able to get there in the first place and would be disruptive collapsing all the time.

It took until I was 35 for the reason for the collapsing to show itself fully, my depression is long standing and has been there since I was 13, I will be 43 in next few months.

Collapsing improved a bit as I took an upswing in mood (later known as mania) and I went back into 4th year as a TYO student. I was given somewhere to lie down and used it only as needed.

I wasn't allowed to do sports or PE due to the risks involved. I had a great TYO year although I had the downs and was still collapsing, towards the end of the school year I went with the school to represent them in France in an international drama festival with other 4th years.

I hit the ground up the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysee but although I was wrecked by night time I had the time of my life, great memories made which helped sustain me in the years that followed.

I made the decision to move out of RoI to the north of the border at the time I would have been going into 5th year, I thought I could get away from my illness (es) how naive I was - but live and learn.

I returned to education about 10 years later part-time in the north while working and applied for although I didn't end up taking it up in the end due to other circumstances BA Hons (level 8) so it wasn't a hold up overall not having the LC

So i left school in 1992 and they were able to accommodate me then support me so I see no reason why the school cant do the same or even better now for your DS

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