“He who laughs most, learns best” – John Cleese
In September last year I took Jenson to school for the first time. My little baby boy was only three years old, was I doing the right thing?
Would he thrive, or be overwhelmed? Was I right to abandon mainstream nursery for this specialised early years provision, at such a young age?
I cried that day when I dropped him off. Well, he cried later that day when I picked him up. He didn’t want to leave; he was having far too much fun. We haven’t looked back since.
It’s impossible to quantify or put into words (or a school report) how much Jenson has learned in these past three terms. To paraphrase the school’s standpoint on assessment: it is preferable to assess students by what the school values the most, not what is easiest to measure.
Two plus two might still give you “cat” in Jenson’s world, but ask him to join in with a sing-and-sign or sequence the letters in his name and he is showing impressive advances. Therein lies the conundrum. How can we reliably evaluate a child’s progress in confidence, patience, independence and attention? Jenson’s teachers have shown me that in fact, these things are wholeheartedly valued, observed, appraised and documented at every step of the way, and our children are rewarded and recognised throughout their learning journey.
Gone are the days when I fretted over whether Jenson would acquire any academic skills or qualifications, whether he would show prowess in the prose of Shakespeare or Chaucer, solve a quadratic equation or apply Newton’s second law of physics. The conventional definition of ‘achievement’ has been overturned and we have a whole new realm of measurements by which to define Jenson’s progress.
Despite coming from family that holds academia in high regard this was a surprisingly easy u-turn for me to take. It has been refreshingly pleasant to be able to abandon the stark, one-size-fits-all assessment framework of the mainstream world, and embark on a learning platform uniquely designed with Jenson in mind, putting enjoyment and positivity at the centre of everything he does.
He is a different child to that coy, bottom-shuffling little three year old I dropped off at school last September. He glows with energy, sparkles with excitement and dives head-first into new challenges.
In three school terms he has progressed from bottom-shuffling to independent walking, with the help of specialist equipment, physiotherapy, orthotics and a whole heap of determination, from himself and the team around him.
There were a few tears of joy that day when I came into the classroom to see five of Jenson’s teaching staff standing in a circle around him, cheering him forward, as he took his first steps.
Who would have ever predicted that, one year on, Jenson’s repertoire of vocabulary would be so vast, and he would be able to answer questions and communicate his wants and needs?! Or that for a child that wouldn’t eat or drink until he was two and a half, he would be willingly sitting with his friends at lunchtime, eating adult size portions of stroganoff?! Amazingly he seems to know the days of the week: Monday morning he greets us bright and early with ‘oool’ (school) and ‘erk’ (daddy going to work). I’m sure he knows when it’s a Wednesday as he says ‘imming’ (swimming).
This year Jenson has received a plethora of awards and certificates, including four swimming badges, student of the week on five occasions, awards for art and technology, music, speech and language, PE and physiotherapy. I have attended the Friday lower school assemblies and the end of term assemblies to watch the award presentations and I have shed a little tear for each and every one. At the most recent presentations, Jenson has even walked up to Mr Brown to accept his certificate, before taking a lap of honour, hugging each of his Explorers staff, and reluctantly sitting back down!
It has been a privilege to meet Jenson’s class buddies each of whom I have become very fond of. I’m really looking forward to watching William, Barney, Elisa, Leanne and Delilah grow and learn along with Jenson, in the many years to come. I’m also so grateful for the friendships I have made with parents and the support I have received from the staff, on a personal and professional level. The support network and feeling of family spirit is omnipresent throughout the school.
I now also meet up with mums outside of the school which gives us all a great opportunity to let off steam, chat without interruption, and laugh and relax together. My family has also been actively involved in raising money towards the school’s expedition to NASA, Florida, for some of the older students to achieve the Gold Duke of Edinburgh award.
There have been enough memorable occasions this year that I could write a book; a blog just isn’t sufficient. Along with an open invitation to attend the weekly lower school assemblies, parents are encouraged to attend the end of term assemblies and a host of other social events throughout the year. Events this year that are etched in my memory are the Harvest Festival, Christmas Carol Service, Victoria Grand Prix, sensory bubble workshop, performance by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and Vintage Car Show.
The amount of extracurricular and off-curriculum activities that are provided leave me at a loss to know where the staff find the time! Whether it be trips out, visits from theatre companies, national sports week, Strictly Come Shakespeare, or creative arts week (the list goes on), the dedication, inspiration and sheer hard work from staff is awe-inspiring.
If I could sum up with the three most inspiring things about Victoria, it would be the warmth, energy and unity that you feel every time you step through the front doors, the equity with which the students are treated across the school, and the unequivocal passion and dedication imparted by every member of staff.
The year has been a whirlwind of fun, learning, friendship and discovery. And that goes for Jenson and myself!