A Journey From Mainstream to Special Education

A Journey From Mainstream to Special Education


I’ve worked in both Primary and Secondary Education and for different reasons they weren’t for me. I could have easily have stayed, I’m not a bad teacher and probably would have had a reasonable career. However, rather than loving what I was doing. I was frustrated by aspects of the job and the settings I was in, that although deemed as vital, I didn’t see as the most important things. 

Over time I’ve looked at how I’ve ended up as an Assistant Head. In what my opinion is a fantastic School for children with wide-ranging Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties and realised its more about me. My beliefs and my own Ethos.


Maybe it was the paperwork? 

Why, am I spending hour after hour writing about what I should be and am going to be doing in class and then further hours analysing how it went, rather than actually spending those hours doing it?

Time that could be better spent doing things with the children and getting to know them individually. Finding out what their interests are and what makes them tick. Create a position where I have built a relationship that will make my classroom management easier. It makes every child feel like they belong.


One of the main problems I think I had, was that my head doesn’t think in a way that fits mainstream. This is not a criticism of mainstream, it is what it needs to be. The number of children dictates that, but children who don’t fit get labelled as bad, troublesome and naughty. When this happens many staff don’t want them around. They present a classroom manage difficulty, a distraction and a drain on statistics.

Now in my experience, there are good teachers and bad. There are good parents and bad. But never bad children. There are children who behave badly. Children with bad experiences who don’t know what to do with their emotions. But no child starts school with the intention of being bad. No child wants to be bad even if they believe it to be the case.


Now, these children always struck a chord with me. I didn’t know why I always had a good relationship with these ‘naughty children’ but I hadn’t been one. I had been very socially awkward in school and very shy. Avoided difficulties with others because I was very good at sport and this could mask my lack of confidence.

Being very conscious of people’s opinions, my behaviour was unspectacular as was my academic attainment. I would be very surprised if any of my teachers other than my PE teacher remember me.

For some reason though, I naturally had the patience and sense of humour to bond with them. Especially with me teaching PE I think it helped me to find common ground and an area where they could achieve when they were failing in the classroom. I was willing to make the effort where many other staff were much more interested in the high achievers and the ‘naughty children’ were just a distraction.

Now don’t get me wrong there are staff in mainstream who are incredibly talented when it comes to pastoral work with children and always believe in the child but unfortunately, they often get to the children when they have already been made to feel unwanted. Had I stayed in mainstream that is where I would have ended up? ‘Firefighting’ and mentally putting children back together after they have been sent out of class, feeling that they are bad and unwanted and therefore behave accordingly.


I believe the majority of teachers enter the profession with the ethos of it being about the children.’Every Child Matters’ is how it’s going to be but then reality sets in.

Targets have to be met, books have to be marked, pressures come from everywhere and over time it gets compromised. Ethos starts at the top and the further up the Leadership Ladder the more targets there are and the more powerful people there are to answer to. Further compromises are made. This is when children become statistics.

Again I do not blame the mainstream schools, it is the government that put these schools in the positions where they have no choice but to compromise. When children stop being seen as individuals and start to be seen as a number that is spoiling the figures. That is when the school Ethos is compromised and ‘Every Child Matters’ disappears.


Whatever it was, I am now in a job working with the most challenging children, children who didn’t fit in, have had the worst life experiences, have a massive range of social difficulties and learning needs and have been told by mainstream that they were failures.  I couldn’t be happier helping these children to prove them wrong.

Are they different? Absolutely! 

Do they behave badly? Sometimes, yes!

Are they failures? Not a chance!

We take children who have been told they are weird or different, that they will amount to nothing and they are bad! We make them belong, we teach them that there is nothing wrong with being different, make them believe they are a good kid in a bad situation and that most of all they have talents, abilities and qualities that means they can achieve.


Don’t get me wrong it’s a bumpy road with outbursts and tantrums, exclusions and detentions and probably the odd chair thrown at my head but when I stand there on GCSE results day and they have the grades to go to college or watch a child who came with low self-esteem and anxiety sing in front of a hundred people then that is a job satisfaction that takes some beating.