early school days

early school days

Can Do Attitude v  Can’t Do Attitude

I spent two years from 1996-1998 looking for a mainstream school that would both welcome and give Nadia a positive educational experience.   I started by looking for primary schools near to our village in Northumberland.   We were passionate about inclusion despite an Educational Psychologist report saying Nadia had “severe cognitive difficulties and would never be able to attend a mainstream school.”

Our local schools said “No” and this became a common theme as I persevered and persistently visited schools in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, York, Leeds and eventually to Halifax, West Yorkshire.   Driven by the equal rights that Nadia had to an inclusive education, I had heard that Calderdale was one of two local authorities that had signed the UNESCO Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education (1) so was hoping for a more supportive approach.

I travelled down to meet the Education and Special Needs Advisor for the local authority, Mr Bob Hayfield.   After having met so many negative people on our journey to find a welcoming school his words will always stay in my memory.  “Ok Mrs Clarke, we need to find the best mainstream school that will meet Nadia’s needs and that she can go to with her brothers and sisters”.   It was like listening to a symphony orchestra after having listened to a painful and screechy violin  for 2 years.

Nadia started at Savile Park School in 1998.  Not brilliant by any means for access but a few shifts of the furniture around and doors off hinges they were away!   Our first taste of real inclusion, with sign language in most classes, a signing choir and all assemblies signed it was worth moving 100 miles for.

All the staff and learning support assistants had a Can Do attitude.  They had never met anyone quite like our Nadia before but from day 1 took everything and each challenge in their stride.  These were the foundations that were part of Nadia’s growing up, her confidence, her belief in herself, and her recognition of her own aspirations.

When we looked for a secondary school we knew straight away that Ryburn Valley again had the right approach.  Mr Adams the head teacher told us “we have never done this before, we will make mistakes on the way, but we want it to work.”  That made it so much easier to work with the team who supported her.  Another Can Doteam who believed in her.

Mainstream local college was also a positive experience support wise.  The teachers left a lot to be desired but the deaf support was excellent and the Disability Officer made sure that we had regular communication and that she had enough resources to ensure Nadia achieved level 2 Health and Social Care.

Our first barrier in Higher Education was an application to Sheffield Hallam and their Disability Studies.  A meeting with the course tutor and the admissions gatekeeper led to an unbelievable discussion around the room being too small to accommodate a wheelchair user.  Nadia is wise to those who Can Do versus those who Can’t Do.  She has to conserve her energy for the positive people and knows that with good support she can achieve the nearly impossible.

Blackburn University offered her an unconditional offer last year one day a week on their foundation degree.   They were the Can Dos.  We had lots of meetings, discussions on access arrangements and how to get the University to finance the extra help.   Nadia turned this down as she was keen to move away from home and experience University life and she had met up with Bedford’s course tutor Navin a few times and he was keen to have her on his course.  Here was another Can Do person that made Nadia feel like she could achieve all her dreams and goals that she had been working towards.

I had concerns for a few months that we needed the Disability Offer from the Uni on board.  Nadia was intending to move 4 hours away from our house and she was one responsible for all the academic support which would have amounted to around 45 hours a week.  She would  have been responsible for not only meeting access needs but troubleshooting and sorting out support if there were any problems.  She was being dismissive to my emails, our requests for further information and offhand that Nadia would need a total of 3 bedrooms on campus.

So the meeting last week that was such a disaster was that their approach was not only Can’t Do but was also Don’t Even Want to Try. 

There was no insight into listening to someone who has worked their butt off throughout mainstream school, who is committed and passionate about the course.  Nadia has been working for the last two and a half years towards getting on a Disability Studies course, she has already done some of the modules.   As a family we have had numerous support planning meetings with Choice Support, social workers, occupational therapists etc.  As parents we have had to take days off work during the last 6 months to try and sort out such a big transitional move.  In all it has cost over £7,000 that includes direct payments, loss of earnings, agency time, PA time, travel and accommodation to Bedford.

It is more than closing the course.  It is about not having the energy to work with those who Can’t Do and knowing it won’t work when the barriers are organisational and attitudinal.  Our evidence shows us in only works with the Can Dos.



  1. Nadia would make a great inspirational speaker to those from all walks of life not just those with additional needs. Your family’s journey is a true inspiration to many people.Nadia is lucky to have such a supportive family as much as you are lucky that she has enriched your lives. Nadia clarke doesn’t know and never has known the word can’t, it’s a shame more people don’t have your mind set, the world would be a much better place. Love to you all

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Would Nadia consider doing the course from another uni by distance learning? This would mostly take away the social side of uni life but would it be worth considering if it meant being able to do the course at her own pace? Or is actually going to classes/living away from home equally important to Nadia?

    I only ask because for me personally, if I really wanted to do a course and was in a similar situation, I would put getting the qualification first.


    • Getting the degree in disability studies was important and the topic was the only one that really really mattered to Nadia. They offered her a place on the Special educational needs and inclusion course but that one is mostly education of course and does not focus as much on the rights, history of disabled people etc. And moving away from home to an inclusive environment and getting away from Halifa was also a driver! She has to have a reason for leaving home and her choices are far less as you will know.

      Liked by 1 person

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