Outside of school, I had progressed to using a manual wheelchair, and I requested permission to use my wheelchair in school. After three months of arguing that they couldn’t accommodate another wheelchair on top of the few wheelchair users already at the school, they relented; I could use my wheelchair on the school premises, but was refused assistance to push the wheelchair, or access to the disabled toilets. They claimed this was because the paperwork that would allow them to assign me a care assistant wasn’t in place, despite having initially claimed that this paperwork was not essential to receive support. I had to rely on my peers to push me around school, and I became a job that needed doing, losing friends.
As my final GCSE exams approached, I requested special conditions to accommodate my illness, such as a scribe, and extra time to compensate for the pain I endured when writing quickly. The first set of exams had been and gone before the school even dealt with the paperwork, and eventually it was decided that I could have extra time, but not a scribe. I was also refused a room apart from all the other students, and this meant that I had to sit in the main hall while the others exams were collected, being called names and having things thrown at me because of my “special treatment”. The incessant chatter of all the students who had finished their exam was so loud I couldn’t concentrate, rendering the extra time almost entirely pointless. By the time I completed my exams, I couldn’t get out of the school fast enough.
It was during that summer break that I attempted suicide.
I relinquished all responsibility for my education, leaving my mum to pick up the pieces. She searched for other schools or colleges where I could sit my A-levels, but either their courses were already full, or they weren’t accessible. Left with no choice but to return to the same school, mum decided to speak to the head of the post-GCSE team.
How mum managed it, I don’t know, but when I returned in September I had a carer to push me around school, access to disabled toilets, and was permitted the use of a separate, quiet room for exams. What I do know is that mum had to attend many meetings, and sit through many heated discussions. She presented medical evidence from the doctor and the physiotherapist, she showed them how it was physically impossible for me to push myself in the wheelchair, and she spoke with the most senior members of staff at the school to force their hand. I was denied access to hydrotherapy, one of the only medical techniques that genuinely helped me, which was offered to every other disabled student at the school. I was still denied a scribe for exams, but I was too relieved that I wouldn’t have to sit my future exams in a room full of hatred to complain.
We were denied access to transport to get to and from school, and since dad was working and mum was sick, we had to rely on local friends to push the wheelchair. I was told that no one at the school was insured to push a wheelchair off the premises and they refused to help us, while still demanding my attendance. One of the teaching assistants noticed my plight, and told the administration team not to be so stupid; eventually she took to pushing my wheelchair off the premises, insured or otherwise.
Inside the school, some of the carers were excellent. Some were not. I was regularly late for class because carers failed to turn up on time, if at all. Approximately once a week I would be left in the disabled toilet while my carer wandered off to have a break, and I had to sit there until someone noticed me waiting. When I spoke to the head of the care team about this, I was reminded that there was no official paperwork saying I needed support, and therefore all support could be withdrawn quite easily. My silence on the matter henceforth was for fear of what support might be relinquished otherwise.
Since I was studying the sciences, practical work and experiments were inevitable. The school argued that they were not insured to provide support in these cases, and that meant that I was expected to walk around a laboratory doing my own experiments. Fortunately, these were not a frequent enough occurrence to cause me major issues, and soon enough my teachers began to provide what support they could while simultaneously keeping an eye on the class.
It was also expected that students stay behind out of school hours for extra study, and those who didn’t were penalised. However, care support did not exist outside of official school hours, meaning I was expected to attend extra-curricular activities alone, including on one occasion an assessed chemistry experiment. This resulted in further exhaustion and pain, but I could say little to those managing the special needs department out of fear.
Finally, I managed to gather the funds to buy a second-hand powered wheelchair, giving me the freedom to travel to and from school myself. I still needed a little help getting around the building, but I was not as heavily dependent on this as before. Given my past experiences, I did not ask the school permission to use my powered chair, but simply turned up in it. They couldn’t turn me away without the attendance team tearing them to shreds.
By the time my school days drew to a close, I was so sick of the place that I would have given anything to leave. On results day, I was so relieved to know that I would be progressing to university that I almost cried. I went and said good bye to the students and members of staff who had helped me, and ignored those who hadn’t.
It is perhaps no surprise why leaving school was one of the best things ever to happen to me.