DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
Where and when the experience happened
A school. School year 2010-2013.
Main actors involved (with special attention to the student’s profile)
• A 7 year old pupil, originally from Congo, starting his educational path. She previously attended kindergarten in another school where she already repeated the third year. Her parents are separated. Her father lives in Brussels and he rarely sees her. Her mother is raising her alone.
• 1st, 2nd and 3rd year primary teachers, the teacher assigned to the internal reschooling unit established by the school.
Sequence of events
1st primary school year (school year 2010-2011)
From September 2010, the pupil shows learning difficulties in basic areas such as maths, French and discovery. She also has problems in oral expression. These difficulties had already held her back in the 3rd year at the kindergarten.
In October 2010, the primary teacher suggests her mother some remedial sessions, which she accepts. They will be delivered by the teacher assigned to the internal reschooling unit and by another primary teacher.
In January 2011 the pupil makes no progress. An IQ test is made by the Psycho Medico-Social centre (CPMS in French). The pupil scores less than 85 (normal IQ), which confirms her difficulties.
The school stakeholders keep her mother informed and they invite her to orientate her education choice to specialised studies. Her mother categorically refuses.
Actions undertaken to identify the reasons of pupils’ difficulties
• The school has established a “roadmap” system for each pupil. In this file, which follows the pupil during all her school path, teachers record the difficulties encountered, the solutions undertaken (internally and with the help from external organisations) together with the contacts with her family.
• This tool is the basis of the stakeholder’s work at the internal reschooling unit established by the school. This stakeholder develops some learning support activities, work methods, coaching for pupils with difficulties sent by his colleagues.
Actions undertaken to solve the situation and the problems met
Following her mother’s refusal to make a change on her daughter’s school orientation, the school suggests other solutions:
• Monitoring by a speech (therapist (not reimbursed by social security). Her mother refuses for she does not have enough money.
• Monitoring by a Child rehabilitation centre (where the CPMS could obtain a place at the start of the new school year in September 2011). Her mother refuses because the centre is too far.
• Monitoring by a closer rehabilitation centre (where the CPMS has signed up the pupil for the waiting list). Her mother accepts but she does not give any follow-ups.
Between March and May 2011, many meetings are organised in vain to convince the mother.
On the report dated to June 2011, it seems that the pupil does not have the skills to get to the second year at primary school (45% in maths, 62% in French and 39% in discovery). The school suggests again the mother to send her to specialised education. She refuses.
The pupil nevertheless gets to the second year, since there is no repetition in the same cycle, the school cannot obtain any exemptions and the pupil was already held back in the third year at the kindergarten.
2nd year primary school (school year 2011-2012)
The pupil keeps the same primary teacher. The remedial sessions continue but new difficulties arise: the pupil seems lost, uncomfortable, sad and she loses trust for learning.
In November 2011 the school suggests again to the mother to send her daughter to specialised education and to accompany her this time to visit many institutions.
The mother asks for time to think and pray. “Decision is up to God”. “God will help her daughter to better understand and work”. She asks for an extension until January 2012. Meanwhile, it seems that the young girl is epileptic and she has stopped all the treatments without medical advice, because God will help her to heal her epilepsy.
In February 2012 her mother is summoned for a new meeting. She does not come and raises her voice, questioning the primary teacher’s professional skills. Communication with her family is broken.
The school, with the help of the CPMS, refers to the “consultative commission of specialised education”.
In June 2012 the parents are summoned by the commission and they attend it with the CPMS. The CPMS puts some pressure on parents by threatening them to contact Youth Social Services for abuse of their daughter, if they do not attend the meeting. At the end of the meeting the father accepts to visit some specialised schools during school holidays but the mother still refuses. However we do not know if the father has taken the steps he was committed to.
Despite her bad results on the report at the end of the year and of the external evaluation (51% in Maths, 63% in French and 42% in discovery), the pupil goes to the 3rd year.
3rd year primary school (school year 2012-2013)
The pupil’s primary teacher has changed. Problems persist, especially in reading. The remedial sessions continue.
The primary teacher suggests to strengthen language adaptation at school: to help the child better understand the words, the instructions, the specific school vocabulary.
This time the mother cooperates and follows her daughter’s learning. Even her father is more involved in her life.
At the end of the year, the pupil has made some progress but her bad results persist (53% in maths, 53% in French, 46% in discovery). Nevertheless she gets to 4th year.
4th year primary school (school year 2013-2014)
The pupil keeps the same primary teacher.
In September 2013, the pupil still experiences the same difficulties in reading, in working alone, in understanding instructions, …
In October 2013 the primary school teacher starts working on instruction reading in view of external exams that will be held at the end of the year.
The monitoring should continue until the end of the year. The school is not sure that the pupil will manage to succeed external exams.
None! The pupil passes from one year to another one like her mother wants, despite her persistent difficulties and bad results. Her later success is seriously compromised.
Support received by fellow pupils, colleagues, directors and parents
• The school operated in teams (the two primary teachers, the substitute primary teacher of the internal school support committee, the direction, the CPMS …). All the stakeholders are on the same wavelength in terms of the need of a specific support to the pupil through specialised teaching.
• No supports from parents (absence of her father, religious believes, financial issues …). Conflict with her mother.
Strengths and weaknesses of the experience
This experience shows how difficult it is to communicate with certain foreign families whose cultural environment and religious believes totally differ from ours and how difficult it is for parents to accept their daughter’s enrolment in a specialised education.
• School stakeholders have worked together
• The school does not abandon the pupil and tirelessly suggests some remedial solutions to her mother.
• From the change of the primary school teacher, the situation slightly improves. It seems that communication is better between the primary teacher and the mother and/or the family has become aware of their daughter’s difficulties.
• Solutions set up by the school from the beginning of the school career are not enough for the pupil’s improvement.
Her success in following external evaluation and her improvement are completely uncertain.
• School stakeholders at all levels do not manage to convince parents to specifically take charge of their daughter.
• All energies are focused on the conflict opposing the family to the school at the cost of the most affected one.
• The pupil will probably never go to specialised education since she passes all years anyway.
• Either, the school is wrong in its diagnosis and needs question itself : 1st and 2nd year primary teacher’s perception, CPMS skills, the IQ test, the skills of the consultative commission for specialized education… Then the whole school system proves itself inadequate.
• Or, the family is programming a disordered path for the young girl: Getting nowhere in primary school, Certificate of Primary Education probably failed, differentiated framework at primary school, even early school leaving and subsequent integration difficulties.