A million dreams.

Autism / General / school

I remember, almost 11 years ago, as I woke up to find a perfect baby girl placed beside me on the hospital bed, the instant need to make this world a happy place for her. As soon as I found out that I was pregnant I had a million dreams for the little person growing inside me. I wanted her world to be filled with laughter, fun and adventure.

I never wanted to imagine that my baby girl would know sadness or fear or be consumed with anxiety. Yet this last year has been exactly that for my precious girl. Two years ago I had a completely happy little 8 year old. She was happily sat in the top groups in her class, she loved reading, loved to learn and was surrounded by a lovely group of friends. We knew that transfer tests lay ahead and assumed that she would happily take this on and enjoy the challenge. She had always been a wee worrier but this was always fairly easily managed.

Then everything fell apart, she began to become more anxious, social interaction became overwhelming. Thankfully we have a wonderful Senco and an excellent educational psychologist who together, along with a PDA diagnosis made it possible for us to access all we needed in order to put these additional issues right.

Having got on top of these extra issues we began, one year ago, to tackle the horrendous system that is our current transfer procedure. Northern Ireland scrapped the 11+ in 2008, this was two tests over three weeks sat within your own school on a Friday during the school day, with no cost involved, all grammar schools accepted the one test. Once this was scrapped there was nothing put in place for academic selection. Northern Ireland do not have private schools or even the economy to support them. Grammar schools didn’t want to rebrand to secondary and there where questions over how schools would differentiate. The grammar schools decided to bring in there own exams but where unable to agree on one set format, so two exam boards where introduced. One exam would be sat over three weeks and had to be taken at your local grammar school, and costs £50. The other test is longer but sat on one Saturday, between the other three and is multiple choice and free. Initially the protestant schools sat the AQE (three tests) and catholic schools and integrated took the GL. The idea was that generally children would only sit one depending on the schools they where interested in but this has changed over the years with several schools accepting either score and more children choosing to sit both exams, (around 2000 children sat both tests in 2018).

Having already decided to sit the AQE we thought that the GL was worth a try to give one extra chance at having options for several schools.

The work load for these exams is intense, our school where incredibly supportive and ran an after schools club from Easter in P6 right up until the tests where over in November P7. Children also did one test per week in school and had to complete corrections at home as extra homework. From the beginning of P7 children do two tests per week plus afterschool’s club. We also chose to use Transfer Tutor app which you purchase a years membership and children can do a selection of tests each day with sample questions from the papers. This was what worked best for us during the summer months when sitting down in front a test paper seemed like too much. From September we tried to do a practice test at the weekends and in October half term we did a practice test every morning.

Having always been adamant that we would never go down the tutor route, we did in the end have a friend do some tutoring once a week, initially to build confidence and then towards the end to focus on the key tricky topics. This really helped with confidence and saw a good increase in scores. This was also something that has now been maintained without tutoring as now we have instilled confidence in her knowledge she is much more confident in her learning.

The tests themselves where very well organised, I have to say Antrim Grammar where fantastic from day one, they where friendly when we where registering, the staff and pupils really put all of our minds at ease on the familiarisation day and on the actual test days all children seemed at ease even though they where in an unfamiliar environment. We where all extremely relieved when the tests came to an end on the 1st of December and we had a wonderful holiday in Disneyland Paris to celebrate (we will honestly use any excuse to go to Disney).

Last week we faced the agonising wait for results. Having very much put the tests to the back of minds (apart from several weeks of obsessing over school admission criteria), we where now ready to see what would come of the months of hard work, tears, tantrums and tests.

We actually spent the day out just celebrating the awesomeness that is Megan as we didn’t need any results to tell us she was pretty wonderful! Megan was as cool as a cucumber in the run up and right until we got home. I think we all felt a little bit ill as we went to open the envelopes. I found this much worse than receiving my own results as all I wanted to do was protect my child and yet I had no control over what this piece of paper would say.

Thankfully Megan did really well, we all, Meg included found it hard to predict how she would do as her practice scores where not consistent. Megs in the past has performed extremely well in tests and this was to be no different. Both of Megan’s scores where good but it was her GL which scored the highest and is the score we have now submitted to her first choice of school. It shows it really was worth taking a shot at that extra test. We weren’t 100% certain on her school choices but we discussed we planned and we considered many aspects, ultimately we’ve now placed the decision into the hands of the Education authority (and we’re trusting God to guide her path).

So after all that, was it worth it?

Yes I think it was, Meg really just wanted to prove she could over come her fear and anxiety, and she did that with bells on! It has also taught her that nothing is out of reach, that hard work gives options, no you don’t always get the score you dream of or the answer you want but you always have options.

Megan is such a wonderful kid, she drives me insane at times and PDA has been a challenge for us all but she fills my world with colour. This kid will never be defined by a number she will never allow herself to be defined by statistics and she would rather decorate a box than fit in one. I have no doubt at all that she will do something spectacular with her life and it will have no relevance to this test or this process but I hope that what she’s mostly gained from this is resilience, strength and confidence.

For this kid, I still dream a million dreams xx

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