Twins Milestone – Going to school alone

Because my twins O and H have always been incredibly shy, they find the most familiar of settings uncomfortable sometimes.

School has been one of those settings. Considering kids go every day, for a shy child, school can still seem slightly daunting, however familiar they are with it. It’s the fear of the unknown… there’s bound to be something new happening each day after all, and the fear of being singled out, asked a question or asked to read out loud etc is constantly with them.

O and H are now in Year 2 and 6 yrs old. It’s not been an easy ride as they’re the youngest in the year group too…. premature August borns. But they have settled in and their confidence is growing all the time, albeit slowly.

Within their comfort zones, with their close group of friends and their regular teachers they’re great. They do have each other too to lean on in times of doubt.

Up until the start of year 2, neither of them had been to school without the other. They’re in the same class… something I insisted on and had to fight for when they started school initially, and it’s worked well. But going to school without their twin just hasn’t been an option really, because of the shyness, and because they’ve always been together. It’s a whole other new experience that they just haven’t seemed ready for.

It hasn’t really mattered though to be honest because during reception and year 1, my boys were pretty much ill at the same time. They had colds together and bugs together… it may have over lapped a day or two when one possibly could’ve gone in, but at such a young age I was of the opinion that I wouldn’t want to cause them pain and stress unnecessarily. They were just about coping with school so I didn’t want to upset the apple cart, so to speak, by forcing one of my boys to go into school on his own kicking and screaming.

This year though I made a promise to myself that if one was fit and healthy enough to go to school then he should, even if his brother was off. Year 2 is a big step up academically so I didn’t want them to miss school and fall behind, plus I believe they’re strong enough to cope now.

Last term I had to put this to the test quite early on.

O and H both picked up quite a bad cold and were off school for a day or two together. H improved but because of his asthma, O was in no way well enough to be in school….. so the day came.

Both myself, the OH and my daughter chatted with H about it the evening before. We explained how he should go to school because he was well and that O needed to stay home because he was ill. We had discussed this anyway over the summer at length, and both boys had agreed they would go in on their own in year 2, but the reality is very different.

However, H was feeling quite positive. Excited even, and this hadn’t waned by the the following morning. He ate his breakfast and got dressed, all while I was reassuring him that he would still be doing his normal activities at school, even without O (they sit on different tables anyway and play with other boys in a large group so it’s not as if they’re glued together).

But when it was time to go, H’s mood shifted. The reality kicked it. He said he didn’t want to go without O and began to cry.

I reminded myself what a big deal this was for him.

I had to handle it right.

I cuddled and squeezed him tight and tried to make going to school on his own sound fun. Different. Exciting! I suggested that now he’s a ‘big boy’ and doing so well at school, his teachers wouldn’t want him to miss any lessons… etc and how great he would feel once he’d done it. I said anything really to encourage.

Just out of the car at school with a renewed excitement. 

I could see he was trying to be strong as he slowly climbed into the car looking sad. My heart went out to him. But once we arrived at school he spotted a friend and they ran in together and he didn’t bat an eyelid. Yay! I did ask his teacher to keep an eye on him in case he felt a bit ‘lost’, as this was his very first time at school without his twin.

I felt emotional as I walked back to the car. It was a big deal for me too… a milestone in the lives of my beautiful boys. I had concerns… what if H was on his own at lunchtime and on the playground? I had visions of him hiding in the corner somewhere, desperately missing his brother.

I fretted all day. O even had a little cry at lunch time when we were discussing what H would be doing at that moment.

I literally couldn’t wait to pick him up.

I needn’t have worried though. H came running out of his classroom absolutely beaming and full of himself! He’d had a great day and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it. It was wonderful, I felt so happy for him.

H had realised that he could do it. He could go to school on his own and it was absolutely fine. I’m sure it gave him a whole new sense of belief in himself, that he could do anything!

Proud just isn’t the word. Bless my little boy.

One down, one to go!

Then just before Christmas, the tables turned and this time it was H that was unwell. That meant that it was O’s turn to go to school by himself.

O struggles more with his self confidence than H. Even though they’re similar, H has always been that little bit easier to manipulate. O is very, VERY stubborn. When it came to talking him round to going to school without H for the first time, I knew it wasn’t going to be quite as straightforward.

He didn’t want to go. He was absolutely defiant. He wanted to be with H and stay home. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t go. I could see the worry on his face.

I didn’t want to insist, I felt sorry for him because to me, he’s so small and vulnerable. I kept reminding him that he really HAD to go. I knew he needed to do this now for his own development and growth as an individual. No excuses. It would be good for him. He was acutely aware that H had ‘done it’ already, which helped, but it still took quite a lot of coaxing to get him dressed and into the car on the day.

I had to resort to “Mummy will get in trouble if I don’t take you to school” tactics in the end when he wouldn’t budge. At last though, he seemed to concede. I must admit I felt a bit evil (for want of a better word)… all sorts of emotions were going through my mind. I was angry at the ‘system’ momentarily, for making me HAVE to take my child to school when all he wanted was to stay at home with Mummy and his twin brother. Not fair.

He was reluctant to get out of the car. I was hoping and praying I wouldn’t have to take him in crying, that would’ve been the worst, but eventually he did get out and went into his classroom without any tears.

It was me who choked back tears.

O not looking so sure.

Again I fretted all day but again, like H, when I picked him up, O was very happy, probably not AS happy as H was, but he’d had a great day and I could see how chuffed he was with himself which made my heart melt. He too could go to school on his own now. Although he did say he wanted H to go with him tomorrow!

They did it! Hooray!

I cannot express how delighted I am that both boys have achieved this big milestone in their little lives.

I’m also pleased with myself that I waited until now to do it. There was no rush and had I done it when they weren’t ready, it could’ve caused them long term distress which I was not going to risk. No way.

They were ready this time.

Big boys now…. and I’m so very proud of them x

 

 

“MumofThree

 

The Summer Born Victory

The whole ‘Summer Born Babies’ campaign is very close to my heart and I’ve written a number of posts on this subject, you can read them all here.

I’m sure you’ve seen the news, it’s been all over the TV and National press recently, where Schools Minister Nick Gibb said admissions rules would be changed so that children born in the Summer Term (or between 1 April and 31 August) would be allowed to go into reception a year later if their parents felt they were not ready for school at four years old. Changes to the admissions rules will have to be approved by parliament, which will hopefully happen soon, but in the mean time Nick Gibb has written an open letter to schools and local authorities. It urges them to take immediate action and allow summer-born children to start in reception aged five if parents request it.

To say I’m over the moon about this would be an understatement.

I went through a very stressful time trying to delay my twins a year, and didn’t win my battle unfortunately, so these changes are too late to help me. But I’m so happy that the Summer Born campaigning group that supported me and so many others, have brought about this monumental change.

I’m happy that our very real concerns as parents have been noted, and that 30 years of research surrounding the birth date effect on childrens’ success in school, has finally been recognised.

I was tormented when my own little summer born twins were forced to start reception at just turned four, when I knew they weren’t ready. I fought with Hertfordshire County Council to delay for a year, but they didn’t budge, even though my twins were premature, and even with support I’d managed to get from the DfE. The Dfe, incidentally, had already issued statements to admissions authorities, clearly advising them that delaying until CSA (compulsory school age, which is 5) should be carefully considered if parents believed it was in their child’s best interests.

summer born twinsMy tiny boys on their first day at school, aged 4 years and 1 week.. looking happy enough posing for pics, but the smiles didn’t last long.

Hertfordshire CC, I discovered, were notoriously difficult. There was only one case that I knew of at the time where delaying had been allowed, and that was fought for months and months, with the little girl in question having severe learning difficulties etc. No one else had succeeded. Including me.

Even now, two years later, Hertfordshire have still refused pretty much every single request and I think it’s disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves.

No parent wants to delay their child starting school unless they feel strongly that their barely 4 yr old, is not ready and may not cope. Some summer borns will be fine, especially those with early summer birthdays and some late August borns may be ready. Young, yes but confident enough to get on with it and thrive.

Some however, like my twins (who shouldn’t have been born until the end of September, which would’ve meant starting school a year later anyway) are still very immature and really would benefit from another year at home or nursery.

I insisted that my twins go to school part-time then, if they DID have to start at 4. I knew my rights and so I treated it like Nursery, picking them up at lunch time each day. They didn’t want to stay for lunch, it was far too daunting for them, and because they weren’t 5, I knew I couldn’t be forced to make them stay. These half days worked well. Then I would pick them up after lunch and built up to a full week. But they realistically didn’t do full weeks until the summer term, as I would keep them off a day here and a day there, if they were tired.

I have to say that this was in no way detrimental to their academic progress. I’m a firm believer that if a child isn’t happy, they won’t learn anyway… being upset and miserable at school would not only prevent them from learning, but it could also have a massive impact on their well being and education for the rest of their school days.

My boys have just gone into Year 2.

Even though they’re at a good school and they’ve made some lovely friends, it still hurts me to see them so small and vulnerable next to their much bigger peers.

My twins also have the added affliction of being extremely shy, which makes certain situations very stressful for them. They won’t join in with sharing assemblies, they’ve only just started to read out loud (very quietly) and don’t want to do sport of any kind.

The shyness IS getting better, but very slowly and I’m 100% sure that their decision to dismiss sports is because (like one of the arguments for this summer born research clearly points out) they are much smaller, weaker and less confident than their classmates who do join in with sports.

It’s sad. But at the moment I’m trying not to think about it. I’m hoping they will change their minds in the future and start enjoying sport of some kind. I think it will benefit them hugely.

We recently went along for the Year 2 curriculum meeting with their class teacher. I was astonished at what children of this age group are expected to achieve by the end of this school year! The curriculum has apparently just changed… it’s become harder. Not what you want to hear when your children are the youngest. At this moment, I cannot imagine my twins getting to grips with even half of what’s expected.

But their teacher is aware of my concerns, she’s known my boys since reception and reassures me that they will be ‘fine’. They’re improving all the time and the school insist they won’t be left behind.

How can they guarantee it though?

It’s just not fair.

It’s not fair that the month they were born in may dictate their achievements academically.

It’s not fair that my little boys will have to fight every step of the way to keep up.

Another year at home or at nursery, to mature and grow…. would’ve made a huge difference, and the so called ‘playing field’ in the classroom would have been leveled somewhat.

That’s all we want, as parents.

And that’s why these changes to admissions are incredibly important.

Gap shirts twins

Is Your Child Too Young for School?

With the cut off date for applications to be in right now for the schools September intake, I thought I’d write about something that many parents are taking more and more seriously. And that is whether their child IS ACTUALLY READY FOR SCHOOL.

There is growing concern amongst parents and education professionals that a child who is just turned four, or a ‘Summer Born’ is simply too young to start school.

Anyone that’s read my blog before, especially this recent post regarding my twins O and H starting school before I felt they were ready, and my ongoing torment surrounding the effects of summer born children in school, will know how much I, myself, have stressed about this issue.

My boys were born prematurely, mid August instead of the end of September and therefore falling into the wrong school year, and I have had major concerns about them being too young to start school literally just after they turned four. Three decades of research proves that the younger children in a year group are at a disadvantage. But for most parents, like myself, it’s not just because of their age, it’s about them, their personality; the fact that they simply don’t seem ready. My twins are painfully shy, quiet and immature. They are very small and in my opinion, vulnerable.

Parents of summer born children and those born prematurely are beginning to realise and voice their concerns that their children are not going to be ready for reception. Some children at this tender age are still very immature, physically much smaller and have not yet developed their social skills which means they struggle to settle into school and could even be at risk from bullying. Safety issues come into play too when children so small are in a cohort with much bigger classmates, especially on the playground. This, as well as the research that proves summer borns, in general, do not perform as well academically as their older peers, simply because they are, in some cases a whole year younger. This is known as the ‘birthdate effect. All this can have a very negative impact on the rest of their education, their whole school life and indeed, their future.

If you’re worried about your child, you need to know that YOU HAVE OPTIONS.

The DfE (Department of Education) have responded positively to the increasing concerns of parents, and with the support of MP’s such as Annette Brooks who has campaigned tirelessly, and Elizabeth Truss who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, the DfE issued much needed official guidelines to the Local Education Authorities (LEA’s) across the country last summer.

These guidelines were Q and A based:

http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/a/advice_summer_born_children.pdf

These official, but not legally enforceable, guidelines were to remind LEA’s what should be known to them already but which they may not have been clear on, or worse, were choosing to ignore, and that is that any parent can request for their summer born child to delay entry into reception UNTIL THE FOLLOWING SEPTEMBER; that these requests should be taken seriously and that there is no ‘statutory barrier’ preventing them from doing this.

Of course, the LEA’s must use their discretion in such cases to make an informed decision but they were simply being told, by Government, that they CAN allow a young, summer born (May to August) child to start in reception the following year if their parents feel it’s in their childs’ best interests. It shouldn’t be a problem.

But there is a problem.

LEA’s are not allowing this to happen. Not easily anyway, and that’s not right.

At the moment, when concerned parents are turning to their LEA’s for help because they believe their young child is not ready for school, the LEA’s insist (as do schools) that their child starts school when he/she should, the September after they turn four, or (if you’re lucky) by the very latest, Easter. Most schools will insist January is the latest time. If a parent wants to wait until the term AFTER their child is five (which they are legally entitled to), which means starting in reception a whole year later, they are being told NO and are being forced to apply for an in-year school place to start school in Year 1, but even then there’s no guarantee there will be a place available. No parent really wants to do this as it would mean the child missing that vital transitional year in reception, therefore being at a further disadvantage on all fronts; basic learning skills are taught, friendships would already be formed etc… and parent’s are scared they won’t get a place at their preferred school.

Basically, parents are being made to feel they don’t have a choice so reluctantly, they send their child to school when the ‘system’ tells them to, which is the September after they turn four, even though they feel their tiny, young child is no where near ready.

It really isn’t fair. A year between ages four and five is hugely significant. Why would anyone in their right mind expect a child who has just turned four to keep up with and be compared to a child who is five? This is what happens at school and no matter how much teachers like to dress it up as….. ‘no, we don’t compare them’… they do. The system does because at the end of year 2 they all sit the same SATS. They do the same things in a classroom and this can often leave the younger children feeling inadequate because they can’t quite grasp what’s being taught.

It’s cruel and can crush a childs’ confidence.

To be clear, a child doesn’t legally have to be in school until the term after they turn five years old, so even if you have a January child, you can still wait until the summer term to send him/her if you so wish. For a child born in the summer term it becomes complicated, because the term after is the following September, which technically is the next year group.

Most parents have no idea that they do NOT have to send their child to school until the term after they are five and they certainly have no idea that they can in fact, delay school for a whole year.

Of course, many young summer borns are more than ready for school, and even though initially the differences between the oldest and youngest is very noticeable, as time goes on it becomes less so. You will hear of stories whereby an August born child has been top of the class. But this isn’t the case for most.

As a parent, YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD BEST.

This campaigning group are paving the way to ensure some much needed change occurs and they are helping parents to exercise their rights and challenge Local Authorities. They are on hand to give advice and support.

Delaying school for a year is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to make sure you have thought it through properly.

There are lots of things to consider.

Being the oldest in the year group could have many advantages and not just academically. It would mean being emotionally stronger, enabling them to be more self assured, enabling them to cope with certain situations better. It would mean being physically stronger which (especially for boys) will result in greater confidence levels and being more likely to excel in sports.

But there is a flip side.

A whole year is a long time, your child might be more than ready by the time the following September arrives and feel out of place in a classroom which will obviously have some much younger children in. They may become bored.

There can be complications further down the line when it comes to secondary transfers. You would need to address this at the time as you will still receive the applications when your child ‘should’ transfer, had they been in the correct cohort. Also some senior schools insist your child ‘skip a year’ so that they’re in the right chronological year group, this is so it doesn’t cause difficulties when generating their GSCE result reports etc and possible confusion with funding. Although legally they would have to prove this is in the childs best interest which would be difficult, but nevertheless, it could be stressful.

Some grammar schools don’t like to take students who are ‘too old’ for the year group. You would need to check your local one if this is something you anticipated for your child. Our local Grammar schools DO accept this…. I called them and they take children in at the year they have been educated in.

Children can be cruel too and once your child is a certain age, he/she could come under question from their classmates as to why they are in a lower class. Do you want them to feel different?

It’s an important decision that only you can make.

It’s worth noting though:

The legal definition for Reception class is primarily defined as a ‘class for 5 year olds’. (section 142 of the SSFA 1998).

Lots of summer borns, including my twins, won’t be five in the whole academic year they begin school in – not until the summer holidays anyway!

For us, after much soul searching and lengthy dealings with the council, we HAVE started our twins in reception. In the correct cohort. The reason being that our council were digging their heals in. They are a notoriously difficult LEA to deal with on this matter and I didn’t want to risk my boys not having a place at the school I wanted, where their older sister is a pupil. The Head Mistress reassured me that they are completely prepared to work closely with my boys and could see no reason why they would not flourish. The school has been giving an ‘Outstanding’ status by Ofsted, it’s a lovely school, so I decided to give it a go.

I was worried though. If you go by their due date and not by their actual birthday, they were still theoretically THREE when they started last September. They looked out of place and it broke my heart.

But, they HAVE surprised us all and settled in, better than some of their older peers in fact. They are now in their second term and they’re happy. They started off by attending mornings only for the first half of last term (I insisted), then built up to two whole days by the end of term. If they were very tired I kept them off. This worked for us as we enjoyed lunch together and spent the afternoon together just the three of us. It meant they weren’t overwhelmed and it wasn’t really any different to being at nursery. Doing this wasn’t detrimental to their development either, it helped because they were happy. Children won’t learn if they are miserable. The school have been very good but I believe part of this is because I stood my ground and didn’t want to force my boys into full time education until I felt they were ready. I knew I had every right to do this.

This term they are doing more of the same. They have an amazing teacher and classroom assistant who they adore. The teachers understand my concerns and liaise with me frequently. The Head Mistress keeps pressuring me to get the boys in for a whole week but I’m not backing down yet. They will do a whole week of full days when I say so. When I feel they are ready. After all, they’re still 4 and legally don’t have to be at school!

Time will tell how they cope academically but being happy and therefore, being able to flourish has always been my main objective.

If you believe your child isn’t going to cope with school and would benefit from another year at home, to have the opportunity to mature before being forced into the classroom situation at such a young age and you want to delay starting school, I would urge you contact your local LEA as soon as possible. This will give you the best chance of a positive outcome.

My advice would be to NOT APPLY for a place in the normal round of admissions and fight your LEA to apply the following year. If you have already applied but decide later that your child isn’t ready, tell the school and your LEA that you will not be taking up the place. You must understand though, by sacrificing your school place, there will be no guarantee you will receive another place there the following year.

If you think deferring your childs place like I have done would be preferable, which means either having your child attend part time or even starting a little later in the year, then make an appointment to see your childs new Head Teacher as soon as you have accepted his/her place. You can discuss your concerns and come to a mutual agreement. Be insistent.

You could even attend part time school and part home educate. This is something you would need to look into further, but it’s another option to consider and one that is available to you.

The summer born campaign group, as I mentioned above, will give advice if you hit a brick wall with your school or LEA. They have a great Facebook page (link on their site) where you can chat to others in a similar situation.

Whatever you do though, don’t be pressured into agreeing to something you’re not comfortable with. Flexibilities do exist. Stand your ground, know your rights and do what you feel is right for your child.

Good luck.

To Delay or Not Delay School – That is the Question

Sometimes in life it might be better NOT have a choice about something.

Sometimes trying to make a choice can prove too stressful.

This week has been pretty stressful for me.

It’s a week I’ve been dreading for a long time… My twins have started school…

I’ve dreaded it for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I will miss them desperately. They are my last children of four and I’ve been a stay at home mum for the majority of the time. I’ve pretty much always had a small child with me for nearly 15 years.

It’s a huge deal. A new chapter.

But that’s not the main reason. I’ve been worrying about the noticeable differences between my twins and their fellow classmates since they started nursery back in January. That, as well as the difficulties with separation from me and settling in.

I’ve talked about it all at length in some previous blog posts. You can read them here.

It’s this whole Summer Born Baby‘ situation… I had no idea about it really before I found myself to be a parent of a summer born baby (or babies in this case!). I’m guessing that unless you ARE a parent of a summer born child this is something you might not be aware of either!

It’s the research that backs up what is, probably, obvious if you were to think about it comprehensively, that summer born children tend do less well at school than their older classmates, especially August born children. There is cold hard fact from research that shows children born in the summer months are more likely to be unhappy at school, be bullied, struggle with school work, won’t do as well at GCSE’s, A levels (that’s if they get that far) and then are less likely to go to a high end university.

I’ve read all of this research intently because my little, identical twin boys just didn’t seem ready at all to go to school. They are practically a whole year younger than some of their classmates and this could have a huge impact on their confidence simply because they are not mature enough. They haven’t had as much TIME to mature as some of the others in their class.

If you imagine a linear graph measuring how well a child does at school according to age, with the highest point corresponding to a September child for example, it would slowly angle down month by month to the lowest, being an August born.

I know a lot of parents with late summer children will say their child did ok at school, excelled even, but the facts are this is not the norm. Some kids close the gap on their older classmates academically (they never truly catch up) over time but is this the best we should expect? Should MY little boys simply ‘get by’ in the hope they just do ok?!!!

This very recent article in the telegraph is interesting…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10302249/Start-schooling-later-than-age-five-say-experts.html

It’s not just about their date of birth though in my case. On top of that there are added obstacles for my twins which would take that imaginary line down even further. These are:

  • My twins are TWINS and this in itself means that with the whole shared development aspect, they will have developed at a slower pace than a singleton child.
  • They were 5 weeks PREMATURE, and if you take this date as their birthday which one should when measuring their milestones and abilities, it makes them even younger. Had they been born at the right time, at the end of September, they would be going to school NEXT year and not this.
  • They are BOYS, who notoriously mature slower than girls.
  • They are painfully shy, which is quite crippling in itself and a huge obstacle to overcome before they can even start to feel comfortable enough to learn. Plus they are very clingy.

The problem I have is that I feel as though we have been swept along within the confines of the system, applying for a place at school and then starting, even though I knew in my mind that they might not be ready. I didn’t know I had options available to me. And now I’m worried that it’s too late to start changing anything.

I wish I’d known much earlier that we, as parents, have options.

I’ve only known about ‘delaying’ school since I started looking into all of this at the beginning of this year but I kept thinking, and being told on a regular basis by their teachers at nursery, that my boys ‘will be fine’.

The guidelines on delaying were always a bit confusing to me.

Basically, if you delay school for a year, the child would automatically go into year 1. This is what most local authorities insist on, they don’t like admitting children to a class out of their normal age group. But going straight into year 1 is not an idea many parents are keen on. Missing that vital reception year of transition and learning through play is not ideal.

There has been a lot of campaigning recently about this and the truth is that local authorities ARE allowed to place a child out of their year group if it’s in the childs best interests. The campaigning has resulted in the local authorities being challenged and having to prove that it is indeed beneficial for a child to start in year 1 having missed out on that very crucial ‘Reception’ year…. they would find this hard to prove.

I know I have a good case to challenge my local authority.

I called them and they insisted I start my twins as planned last week and see how it goes. I wasn’t really happy about this but I went along with it. The lady I spoke to said I would have a stronger case if I at least gave it a go.

My boys screamed their heads off on their first day. Didn’t want to go the next. But on Friday were reasonably ok. I don’t know if this is because they were happy or because they felt resigned to it.

They don’t really want to go but if I waited until next year would they be any different?

They may not WANT to go next year either but at least they will be stronger, more confident, more able. They will have a much better chance of getting to grips with whatever tasks they are given to do.

But then again, who’s to say they will be less able now than some of their fellow peers? Who’s to say some of the older children won’t have learning difficulties and therefore fall behind where my twins are academically?

I’ve heard that shy, quiet children can sometimes progress quicker as they are not the ones shouting out and playing around, they are sitting quietly, listening.

Maybe being with slightly more able children will encourage mine to try harder and challenge themselves, this could be a positive thing?

Maybe after a few weeks of being at school they will absolutely love it?

What if my boys realise later on that I kept them back because they weren’t ready and feel stupid, or worse be ridiculed?

What if they go into Reception next year with children much younger but are academically very advanced, therefore leaving my twins feeling even more inadequate?

These are all scenarios I’ve got rattling around in my head right now. I’m so bloody confused.

Deep down in my heart I feel that they would benefit from another year to give them time to mature but I’m afraid of having a battle with my local authority. I’m worried that if I pull them out of school and they don’t get a place next year it will leave us all devastated.

I need to make up my mind. And soon. But trying to make a decision is killing me!

Keeping My Twins Together at School

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, following on from my other post about my wishes to keep my twins in the same class at school.

After making the decision to at least keep my twins together in the same class for reception, considering they do have the odds stacked against them in terms of being the youngest and being premature, therefore falling into the wrong school year, I knew I would have some convincing to do.

I’d already had a conversation about this with the Head Mistress of my childrens’ primary school who told me in no uncertain terms that they have a strict separating twins policy in place which she hoped I would comply with. I then (after careful consideration and research) called to arrange a meeting to discuss our decision of wanting to keep them together and was waiting to hear back when said meeting would take place.

What would I do if she was adamant about separating my boys against my wishes? This is something I felt so strongly about because as I’ve mentioned in aforementioned posts, my boys are painfully shy and very young. It’s something myself and my OH have talked endlessly about and researched comprehensively.

From this research, I know keeping twins together is NOT detrimental to them in any way. In fact, it’s beneficial. As parents we must make an informed decision on what’s right for OUR children. Of course, there may be valid reasons to separate twins but for us this definitely wasn’t what we wanted. (Please read the highlighted post above about our reasons for wanting them kept together). I would like to add something else to those reasons, even though this isn’t something I took particularly seriously as it’s not a proven fact (yet) but it IS interesting….

There have been findings that twins who are separated from an early age i.e reception, can sometimes find themselves losing their special bond and even end up not getting along at all. Separation can encourage rivalry and jealousy as the twins make new and different friends, taking them in different directions. This intrigues me as a few mums of twins at our school I spoke to (and it’s only a few mind you) have told me their twins are very different and don’t get along very well……. they believed it was right to separate their twins, but could they be thinking this way because they were given no choice? Their twins may have been different and got along well had they been kept together, who knows? But tellingly, most of these Mums DID want their twins in the same class but weren’t allowed. They chose to go along with the school’s policies.

But I wasn’t going to.

I set about trying to put together a case to bring in front of the Head Mistress.

I already had plenty of ammunition (so to speak) confirming that most twins, at least in the very early stages of education, benefit from being together.

I knew it wasn’t a government policy to separate twins or even a local authority policy, it was a school policy set by the Head and based on a personal opinion. I knew this was something that our Head Mistress took seriously as no twins had been kept together, ever in the school.

I’ve learned that the idea of separating twins to help encourage their ‘individuality’ (which is the primary reason for separation, although I’m sure things like ease for the teachers and twins doubling up as a unified force are among others) is a little old fashioned now. It’s something that around twenty years ago education bigwigs decided was a must because they believed that twins who remained together through school became dependent on each other and wouldn’t develop properly as individuals. We now know this is nonsense.

From writing my first post on summer born babies I had a comment left by a lovely writer/blogger who works in education for the early years. She left me a link to a report which shows some government guidelines on what is important for children in their early education. It’s a very long report but the absolute overriding factor that I found in it is that the school must, above all else, ensure the childs’ individual needs are met and that they are HAPPY. Reception is all about transition and about giving the child as positive an experience as is possible so that education is ultimately an enjoyable process.

This was like music to my ears and a little bit of cold hard fact that I could use should I need to. It was also proof that the childs’ happiness at this very young age should trump everything else. My thoughts entirely. I knew my twins would be desperately unhappy being forced apart, they would possibly crumble and it’s cruel as far as I’m concerned.

twins together at school

My gorgeous, happy together boys

I then had a conversation with another mum about this, who unbeknownst to me was married to one of the governors of the infants and who she called for me to have a ‘quick word’ with.

I told him I was worried about the meeting in case Head Mistress categorically said no. My conversation with him gave me some much needed confidence. He told me that after listening to my case he could see no reason why Head Mistress should deny me my wishes. He advised me to simply tell her exactly what I told him. He mentioned that as a rule the school would not want to upset or cause a poor relationship with parents and considering this was a simple request based on two little boys who will be happier together in school at this early stage of their lives, it wasn’t in their best interests to block my decision.

He said that if her answer was still a no then I should write to the Chair of Governors, who could then look at my case. He didn’t think it would come to that though because of the nature of the request and my strong feelings about it as well as all of the evidence I was collating to support my case.

I didn’t want to get off to a bad start with Head Mistress though, I’ve had two other children go through the infants and I didn’t want my twins time there to be tarred with ill feeling.

I just wanted her to take careful consideration in her decision about MY twins who are very young in the school year and painfully shy. I wanted her to make allowances and not categorise them, or generalise by saying all twins are fine eventually with being separated!  I wanted her to know that I didn’t disrespect her policy and if it worked for others then great but I didn’t think it would work for us. I wanted to ask for a discretionary decision based solely on MY little boys and the difficulties they have faced and would still face. And if it didn’t work out somewhere down the line then I’d be prepared to discuss and review the situation at that time.

In the end, I needn’t have worried so much. Head Mistress had decided to take the decision out of her own hands and pass the matter on to another teacher, who was Head of the Foundation Years.

I knew this teacher, she taught my eldest in Reception and when we sat down together in the classroom we just talked.

When she finally (slightly reluctantly) said I could keep them together if that’s what we wanted I felt such a surge of happiness and relief!

I’m sure that her decision was based on some of the evidence I had collected but more so I think it was based on the fact that they, as a school, were aware of the difficulties in settling the boys into the school Nursery; how stressful it had been for both them and us. They probably knew that being the cause of so much potential upset on all parts just wasn’t worth it.

Of course there were conditions that she discussed with me. For example, it was their absolute duty to ensure my twins were treated as individuals by teachers and their fellow students; that it was also their (the teachers) duty, especially in reception, to set the children up for their educational life with the right skills and mindset, which meant encouraging them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.

It seemed as though she had already given our situation a lot of thought and this meant the world to me after worrying about it for so long.

I left the meeting feeling ecstatic. It was done. I looked at my boys in all their innocence – they had no idea of the stress I had gone through or lengths I was prepared to go to – and I knew I’d done the right thing. For them.

They are lovely little boys and they get along so well with each other. Being together is all they know, it’s what they are accustomed to and, for now at least, they will continue to share the same environment and experiences.

Do I keep my twins in the same class at school?

So, considering I’m having issues about my very young twins starting reception in September, I have decided, after much research into all the pro’s and con’s, to keep them together in the same class. For support and their own happiness/wellbeing.

But there is a problem. The Head Mistress.

Their school is a three form entry (just expanded from two forms) and apparently they have a policy to separate all twins. Head Mistress said that twins are better off separated and this is what happens at this school. When I questioned the generalisation, she told me in no uncertain terms that they (the teachers) have years of experience which makes them know best.

I begged to differ.

I pointed out that what works for one set of twins might not necessarily work for another. Each set of twins should be looked at individually. I mentioned also that if it were a one form entry school then twins would be together anyway and there wouldn’t be an issue. She then got a little defensive and implied that maybe I should’ve looked into putting them into a school with only one form!!! The cheek… so nice of her to say that…. Both my older children have gone through this school but maybe I should send my twins to a different one just because I want to keep them together? Ridiculous. Incidentally, no where on the prospectus does it mention the policy of splitting up twins!

To be fair, she did go on to try to explain why they separate twins e.g – being treated as individuals by the teachers and fellow classmates, avoiding competition with each other, preventing children in the class preferring one twin to the other etc…. and yes they are all valid points but they are just scenarios. It was all very one sided, those are things that could happen, but equally they may not. What about the positives of keeping them together? My boys WANT to be together. They get on extremely well. They are not competitive at all, if one does something fantastic the other one loves it! They don’t fight (they have their moments obvioiusly), they are quiet and well behaved (most of the time) – and it’s what they know. I really can’t see any negatives.

And let’s not forget the most important issue here, my boys are very, VERY young in the year group. Born prematurely so ended up having an August birthday instead of a late September one. Technically in the wrong school year if you look at it like that. They haven’t really made friends at nursery yet, which is down to their social skills not being fully developed and their extreme shyness. I don’t want to be forcing them apart in September after six weeks of being at home into classes where they might not know anyone.

I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. I know my boys, they would miss each other, but it’s not just that, keeping them together would make settling in easier for them and everyone else for that matter. It wouldn’t be doing anyone any favours to separate them; the teachers included, who would probably spend half the morning trying to calm them down and settle them in.

And what damaging affect will forced separation at such a young age have on my boys? The element of stress it could bring to their lives, making their early educational experience so unhappy they can’t learn and achieve. Splitting up twins has been known, in some cases, to have long term affects which could lead to withdrawal and depression.

It’s not necessary. If they were older in the year group and were much stronger and more confident then I may just be swayed into going along with the school policies simply because Head Mistress is making me feel I don’t have a choice, but as it stands they are not. These are two tiny boys who I believe would benefit hugely from that support they get from each other.

I came away from the meeting feeling a little bullied and confused. I said I would go home and discuss with my OH (who couldn’t make the meeting due to work commitments) then get back to her but I knew in my heart I hadn’t changed my mind.

I started to look into this whole subject more earnestly.

Tamba (the Twins And Multiple Birth Association) have documentation that states keeping twins together at school is actually beneficial for them at this stage. I had substantial conversations with them a few months ago which resulted in them advising me they would be willing to back me up 100% in this.

My local education authority also informed me that this decision should be left to the parents, although they don’t normally get involved and like to leave it to the school to make the decisions, but I was pleased to know the LEA wouldn’t enforce the school policy on this.

I have been on many forums and read many articles/reports and no where does it say keeping twins together at this very young age is detrimental. Of course there will be cases that buck the trend as all sets of twins are different. If you have twins with very different personalities it might be in their best interests to be in separate classes, they may fight a lot, or one is very needy, or one is a bully etc – it really should be up to the parents to look at their children and decide what’s best. All parents on the forums who opted to keep twins together said they were all doing brilliantly. There were some parents who split them initially then found the children missed their twin so they then asked for them to be put back together which resulted in happier kids!!

Then there were the vice versa cases where twins being in separate classes were also doing well. The thing to remember here is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. There really is no right or wrong, just what works best for a particular sets of twins and the choice should be ours, as parents. We know our children best.

twins

The dynamics between twins, especially identicals as mine are, is very complex and unique. It’s not something other people can understand. Separating them and ‘forcing’ them to become ‘individuals’ too soon isn’t necessary and it’s almost like saying their special relationship is something to be ashamed of. Ensuring they develop their individuality is an issue parents can help with at home later, in their own time but as twins grow they usually do this themselves anyway.

I called Head Mistress to let her know we’d made the decision to keep our boys together. She wasn’t available and wasn’t going to be for a few days so I left the message with her receptionist.

It’s been a couple of days now and I haven’t heard anything. I wonder if this is good or bad?

I will let you all know the outcome! Fingers crossed!

You can read the follow up to this post here.

My Summer Born Babies – The Follow Up

Following on from my previous post on summer born babies and my earlier one on nursery nightmares I thought it’s about time I updated on the situation.

Firstly I’d like to share that in the past week or two my boys have been happier going into nursery. We, as a family, have been talking to them a lot more about nursery and trying to get them to open up more about what they do, what they like, the other children etc and I believe this has helped a great deal. They also had a visit from a farm every day last week; different types of animals to see/touch, which really helped them get excited about going in every day.

They still struggle with me leaving but all of this week so far we haven’t had any tears. Yippee!! All the nursery children have a trip coming up next week too to Butterfly World which my boys are looking forward to (but only if I go – I’ve put in a request to go as a helper but I’ve yet to be told if I can..not sure my boys will go without me). So all in all, a lot more positive.

Next thing to report is that I’ve had my meeting with the Head Mistress to discuss my worries regarding my boys not being ready for reception. I have to say that straight away I felt bombarded with her views and opinions and while, in her own way, she did try to reassure me that they are fully aware of my twins needs and that the feedback from their nursery teachers was positive in terms of improvement, I wasn’t convinced.

Education wise she promised me that by Year 2 they will have caught up and no one would be able to tell from a class full of children who were born late in the school year. Hmm well I’m not holding out for miracles there but I hope that will be the case. I’m so worried that they won’t be ready but keeping them back a year just doesn’t seem feasible without a huge fight with the council and I don’t want to make the wrong decision. It’s confusing when, as parents, we rely on the teachers to help guide us, we are not the experts so it’s very difficult to be confident about making the right choices.

The fact that I’ve raised my worries with her should be enough though, I hope, for her to ensure my boys are kept a close eye on and that they are not falling way behind. She suggested that they could ‘stagger’ the start of school if we wanted, perhaps just going in for mornings for as long as needed as they still get very tired in the afternoon, if this would be helpful. I was pleased about this.

But still I have my concerns.

twins at nurseryMy boys in the nursery uniforms! They are so young and small, they are much smaller than the other children at nursery. 

I don’t want my boys to suffer at school. They will be a whole year younger than some of their classmates and naturally they may not be as advanced, a year is a long time for children to develop at this age… they learn so much in a year so to be a year younger in the same class learning the same stuff….. well, it’s not fair. Head Mistress HAS given me some positives though and the school IS very, very good so maybe she is right, maybe they will be absolutely fine. It may take a little longer to start off with, as in reading and writing…. but they will could catch up and even excel.

As I mentioned in this post about Summer Born Children, the hard facts are there though, the research has been done and the majority of these poor children ARE falling behind…. not because they’re not bright, but because they are younger. I believe this research is bumped up by the children in poorer areas where parents don’t invest as much time into helping their children read etc or simply don’t have access to as good a school so obviously these children will suffer the most. If we’re doing all we can at home to help our boys, maybe they will be fine? I just don’t know.

I’m just going to see how it goes, we’re in May now and my boys will start Reception in September. A lot can change in four months but I simply cannot imagine they’re going to be ready.

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