Monday, 25 May 2009

Delamere Forest School day 4

Eyebright pilot.

This was a good day - our relationship with the students grew stronger and we had a big push on the work too. For the first time it felt that the students had settled us into their regime, their guardedness (and the reserve of their teachers) was coming down and they took risks with the pieces because they'd begun to trust us. The atmosphere was clear and focussed in comparison to the previous day, though there were still tail-ends of tantrums at breakfast. In this school, it is a priority to establish a safe environment, otherwise the young people are so brittle they can’t relax enough to give their best.

We worked them very hard, requiring levels of attention that I don’t think some of them realised they possessed. They unpeeled layers of protection, starting to show their vulnerabilities and allow themselves into the pieces. Little revelations came moment to moment. Suddenly we were rewarded with painstaking effort and personal expression, the excitement of making something that is true.

There were many notable incidents on this good-style day. One of my favourites was the opportunity to work with J – who has a diagnosis of autism, attention deficit syndrome, depression and anger management issues - and is embarrassed about his handwriting on top of all that. With constant supervision and cajoling he wrote a deeply felt piece explaining his difficulty with words, with expression, with people and with himself. During the writing, he actually fought with himself to try to stop his own self-interruptions and allow clear thinking. It was a small piece of paper containing a large personal victory for him.

Another piece, read out by A, described the fits that he suffers from and how they pursue him through his life, wrecking days and leaving him shaken, agitated. This was a heartbreaking piece of prose, read despite a stutter, but with great intensity. I actually had tears in my eyes, witnessing this desperately forlorn little autobiography. Everytime the word ‘fit’ came up – and it was mentioned many times – it hammered the point deeper in.

During all of this there were visits from the headmaster, school governors, the music teacher, art teacher, and a string of other adults. Although we were preoccupied, it was a wonderful set of interruptions – it was as though we were receiving blessings.

In the late afternoon we were getting close to exhausted and were grateful for a final session with the beautifically calm art teacher who generated such tranquillity that we all let go of our various tensions and made pieces in happy suspension.

Going home seemed terribly sad.

(arthur+martha would like to thank all the students and teachers at Delamere Forest School for their kindness during our visit.)

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Jonathan Winsky said...

I joined Delamere in March 2002 and left in July 2008 and I think I am a great example of what can be achieved at the school through the unique environment created by the staff and – rightly or wrongly – the location. Just look at what I achieved before, during and after Delamere. When I started, I had managed to get myself kicked out of two schools, so my life was going nowhere. At Delamere, I achieved AA in GCSE Freestanding Maths, C in GCSE English and BC in GCSE Leisure and Tourism. After, I failed to get onto the accountancy course I hoped to go on, so now I am in Foundation Studies at college working on my social skills and educationally I am very unhappy. However, I am hopeful that I can get onto that course next year. In other words, Delamere help me fulfil my potential, and got something out of me that no-one else seems to have done.

I often wonder to myself if I was happier at Delamere than I am now. At Delamere I was doing well educationally, but really wanted to be at home in London so I could go to football and cricket and not be bossed around by care staff all evening. Now I am home all year round, and have got all that, but I feel I am achieving nothing at college.

Once again, I am stumped regarding the identity of one of the pupils, in this case 'A'.

Unknown said...

I survived Delamere for 10 years. Everything was about control, confinement and conformity. Everything was poor and the school should be shut down. Expectations was nil. Thank god for mainstream education which I managed to get at 16 and managed to escape from another special ed place. Thank God for Mrs Baker - who was the only person who believed in me.
Simone (Inclusive Education camapigner and member of 2020 campaign to end segragated education by 2020)