Education, education… repetition

Low expectations for disabled kids

Over the weekend I’ve been working my way through the remaining boxes put in the cupboard under the stairs when we moved house almost 18 months ago. And so I came across a scrap book stuffed with Jenny’s old certificates, mostly for swimming. I’d glanced at the certificates before but hadn’t really paid attention to the wording.

The scrap book appeared to start with the ‘learning to swim’ type certificates followed by results for competitions. It was only when I translated the certificates into a timeline that something very odd struck me.

It starts with Jenny’s first swimming certificate: ‘Leeds City Council – Department of Education’ Beginners’ certificate for swimming 10 yards (dated October 1981). Next, the Preliminary certificate for 25 yards, from February of the following year. By July 1982, when Jenny was 13, she’d been presented with the Second certificate: ‘jump or dive into the water and swim 75 yards’. They must have waived the ‘jump or dive’ bit.

So far so good, steady progress. But turn over another page in the scrap book and I got a sense of déjà vu.

What’s this? Dated 10 May 1984, a rudimentary Banda printed certificate signed by the head teacher, saying that Jenny had gained ‘The Tadpole Award’. What’s going on? A certificate surely aimed at primary school kids, given to a 15-year-old. Then worse still, on the page opposite, another of those 75-yard Second certificates for swimming – this one dated January 1985, almost three years after she’d first achieved that distance.

First and second 'Second Certificate For Swimming'

First and second ‘Second Certificate For Swimming’

It all reminded me of Jenny’s spelling tests in her primary school years. Aged 8, she’d come home each week with a list of 20 words to learn. It was encouraging as the words were similar, if not more complicated, than those I was leaning at a ‘mainstream’ school. Better still, Jen was getting taught the components of English grammar, something our primary school teachers barely touched on.

Well it would have been encouraging, but two years later she came home with spelling test lists of vocabulary which were easier to spell than the ones she’d mastered at the start. I know the teachers had their work cut-out to cater for a group of disabled children with a wide range of ability. Yet there seemed to be a complete lack of continuity.

This, if anything, brings the lack of expectation regarding attainment into sharp focus. If Jen’s experience was typical, then disabled children really got a raw deal in 1970s and 80s education.

That aside, the remainder of the scrapbook contains at least half a dozen swimming certificates from galas and competitions, most of which Jenny won. And I know Jenny enjoyed mastering the swimming.

About Ed Green

Writer and editor, Yorkshire bred, now living and working in Central London. This blog charts the writing of my memoir 'Twinned' - life with and without my disabled sister. It features disability issues, cerebral palsy, traumatic death, bereavement, twinless twins, guest posts, and throws in the occasional 'off topic' post.
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