Updated: Oct 24, 2020
SEN provision had imploded well before Ofsted put Eydon Vale into Special Measures. Yet the Inspectors had shown little interest. In their report, there were no complaints about cutbacks to therapy, the SENCo’s move out of the classroom, the proportion of semi-literate pupils leaving Eydon Vale and the large numbers unable to cope with Mr Gove’s revamped GCSEs. What we needed was a wholesale retraining programme for the staff..
Now our extra lessons for more able Year 11s were coming to an end, I took my plans for reshaping Special Provision to the staff. Rowena Cross was among the first to volunteer. She said she learned more about teaching RE from her two special unit pupils than she had from any mentor or textbook. They joined her mainstream Year 8 RE class. Sylvie Francome walked with sticks and had mild learning difficulties. Errol Samson, the younger brother of Elroy. had a history of oppositional behaviour and reading difficulties
For their first RE lesson, which I happened to observe, Rowena had opted for a whole-class, open-ended discussion about the afterlife. At the start, a sizeable group said they believed in reincarnation. There was also a significant minority who hoped that they would be able to meet loved ones in heaven. Sylvie needed little encouragement to tell the class about the kind of spiritual experience Rowena recognised from her Master's dissertation.
“My mother and I were in a car accident before I was born. She was so badly injured, that her heart was only kept pumping by the ambulance crew. She was brain dead, and the oxygen flow to my brain was affected. That’s why I have cerebral palsy. She died before I was born, but I feel she is still with me, even though she is dead.”
The other pupils looked at Sylvie with new respect. Her transparency disarmed them. Her anecdote prompted the only Nigerian in the school called Aki to put his hand up. He told the class about the night his baby brother died.
“I was on a night train from the north of the country to Lagos with my father. In the middle of the night, we were both woken up. I asked my dad the time. It was 2:22. He told me to go back to sleep, but I lay awake for hours tossing and turning. I knew something was wrong. When our train stopped in Lagos the next morning, my mother was there to meet us. She told us that my little brother had died at 2:22.”
Once again, all the pupils fell silent. No one else knew what to say, so Elroy put his hand up. He decided to tell the class about the night he had seen his father’s ghost. He had gone for a walk in a tunnel of trees at the edge of town. The moon coming over the horizon. Its light fell on the path. It was almost as bright as day. One moment, there was no one there: the next, his dad was standing just a few metres away, filling the pathway. He had a straggly beard and was wearing the tee shirt that he had on the day he died. There was no wind. There was not a sound. Then his dad spoke to him.
“I never used to believe in ghosts, Miss. I used to think that when we die, that’s it, but now I feel my dad is still with me, just like Sylvie said. He let me down, but that night he told me he does not want me to let myself down.”