A Letter to J’s Headteacher

I am writing to you as J’s mother, in his final week at school, to express my gratitude for everything the school has done for him.

To understand the impact on him, it might help to explain a little about his school life before Wells. When J was at nursery school, he was taught by a really exceptional teacher, who identified how musically talented he was (“an outstanding singing voice” cannot feature in many three year old school reports) but unfortunately he had few other positive experiences. On starting reception, we explained about his Aspergers assessment and that he could become distressed at times and it was always best to leave him to himself with a book. I was told at school everyone must do the same thing at the same time. In the years that followed, I lost count of the number of conversations that started “The problem with J”, most notably his reception teacher telling me the problem with him was that he always had to finish something once he had started. My tight-lipped response that he had a skill that I wished many of the staff I managed had, did not result in any acknowledgement that this may not be a problem. In the painful process of diagnosis and assessment, every foible was scrutinised as a potential problem. He alternatively had a lack of imagination and then was lost in a fantasy world. He was removed from a exciting school trip to meet with an educational psychologist and then described as withdrawn and uncooperative. At the end of primary education, we were told he would never pass an exam. To be told that your son effectively has no future at the age of eleven is devastating.

At secondary school life was still tough; he was bullied for being ‘weird’, he sought refuge in watching trains from the school playground fence. And then he started clarinet lessons. Suddenly, he had something he was good at and of which he was proud. He then found a bassoon in an attic and while it was battered and old, it changed his life. However, he still struggled at school, except musically and we were really upset when Music GCSE was withdrawn from the curriculum. J studied for this independently, but our requests to allow him time off Woodwork was refused. In my head, his future consisted of possibly becoming a train driver and playing music for pleasure.
We had no idea schools like Wells even existed or that there were possibilities for J to study there. When he was approached, we were excited, but also really fearful. As you may know, J can really struggle with independence skills and the prospect of him becoming a boarder was frankly terrifying. I had recently lost my father and the prospect of sending my son to a boarding school, where I envisaged his life being made a misery by braying, mocking public school boys, may well say far more about my anxieties and prejudices than the reality, but it was still hard. To be honest, it felt like a bereavement. For a while, J did find it really hard and it was sometimes too easy to worry about him and wonder if we had made a mistake. On the other hand, perhaps our ambivalence always gave J a sense that he wasn’t trapped there and that he knew if he wasn’t happy, we would support him leaving. It took me until a lunchtime concert in July, on a summer’s day watching your pupils perform in this wonderful setting that I realised how he was absolutely in the right place.
Through the professional musical support of Dr M and Mr H, the kindness and guidance of Mr G and Mrs C and the environment in which pupils really are celebrated for being who they are, my son has flourished and I hope his background story sets out why I am so, so grateful. I have always been incredibly proud of J and I have always thought him to be a really special and unique human being who has a huge amount to offer the world. The difference Wells has made to him is that others see that too and J himself is proud of what he has achieved. I am sure all parents have the same wishes for their children – to be happy and to achieve their potential and for many years, we believed this would never happen for J. Wells has not just given him an education; you have given him a future that we didn’t think possible. There are really no words to express what this means to us and to him.

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