Being a mum can be a lonely place at times. You always worry, ‘Is my child okay?’ or ‘Am I doing the right thing?’. Sometimes you feel that whatever decision you make will be the wrong one. These were my initial thoughts when my husband and I began the deferral process for our child. You could even say, I often buried my head in the sand as if the issue would resolve itself without a battle. It was a nice thought but not our reality. However, the ‘Give Them Time’campaign has given me the courage, encouragement and passion to talk about deferral and share with others my experience in the hope it can offer what the campaign has given me.
The early days
When I found out I was pregnant my husband and I were over the moon. We talked from the beginning about sending our child to school at 5.5 because we were having a January baby. It wasn’t a long conversation or an argument, we just agreed with the other’s feelings. We didn’t even know if the baby would be healthy. In fact, that was our biggest concern then. After an easy pregnancy (as if there is such a thing!), I gave birth at the end of December instead of January. I was really pleased to have a Christmas baby and my sister was home too. Perfect! However, it was not until my child reached nursery that I realised what this meant. We would potentially have to send them to school at 4.5.
During our child’s time at nursery we moved from one region to another. Would deferral be met with the same negativity as it was in our original area? The answer was indeed yes. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost in a form I couldn’t and didn’t know how to answer about additional needs, which my child didn’t have or limited communication. I was ushered into a room to see how serious we were about ‘deferral’. I felt so lost, frustrated, isolated with no one who understood to talk with about it. I was anxious that my child would have to sit at a desk aged four when they should be playing. Why the big rush?
Why we wanted to defer
In the end, their place at nursery was taken away and school looked like the only option. I had lots of professional parents wondering why we didn’t want to send our child to school. They would say ‘My child started at 4.5 and they are getting on fine’ and I am sure they were. For me though, something just didn’t feel right, and my husband felt it too. I was often told your child is ‘smart and will cope with the work’. It’s arrogant but that wasn’t my worry. It was simple things like sitting in a seat, going to the toilet independently, listening or sitting to do homework. I knew our child was smart and I didn’t need a test to tell me that. I had spent the last four years with this wee person and knew that they were academically capable, but would they be ready for the classroom? Primary teachers have a hard-enough job as it is without dealing with behaviour that is more suited to a nursery setting.
We thought we didn’t have a choice
We thought school was the only option. I cried so much. This was not what we wanted for our child. Why could no one see? I felt desolate and cried to my husband. That’s when we looked at the law and discovered we had a legal right to defer. I was confused and worried I was breaking the law but my husband reassured me that even though our child didn’t have a place at a state nursery, we could send them to a private one.
Silence and misinformation
Communication from the local authority had become non-existent. In fact, it had stopped. However, when I managed to make contact, we were told that if we sent our child to a private nursery, they would be placed on the home schooling register so that they didn’t fall off the Council’s radar. This made me worried that what we were doing was falling fowl of the law. I have nothing against home schooling but this was not our choice. Why couldn’t deferral be reflected more accurately in their records? Would they try to force our child to start primary two a year down the line? Couldn’t they see that I didn’t want our child’s education to suffer, I wanted our child to prosper? I wept down the phone. ‘My child is not being home schooled. We are sending our child to a private nursery. We are not asking for funding. What is the problem?’. I wasn’t asking for funding – I never had. In hindsight, maybe we should have but I had long accepted that prevailing attitudes about deferral and the current economic climate meant we would not stand a chance.
My husband was an invaluable source of support. He wrote a well-articulated letter that night which stated the law, asked for our child to be taken off the home schooling list and explained that they would be going to a private nursery for a year before starting primary one. We could only afford four days with our savings and we were lucky to have our parents to help a bit with childcare too. I know that not everyone is as lucky with this level of support, but we were determined to make it work. We had enough money until the January, but the private nursery encouraged us to look at a salary sacrifice scheme which also helped us afford it. I am grateful for all their encouragement and support. I don’t think they will ever understand my gratitude towards them.
You are not alone
After the ups and downs of last year, I was introduced to this campaign by a friend. It was such a relief to realise that we were never alone, that other parents were experiencing issues deferring their child too. I felt liberated, I wasn’t that difficult parent when talking to other parents in the ‘Give Them Time’campaign. There were others in a similar situation. Just to have that sense of release was wonderful. To hear about others’ struggles and hardship was a comfort, selfishly. To meet and speak to other parents in a similar position has been invaluable and often a great source of support. However, bigger than the campaign for me was the realisation in myself. It was profound. My decisions for my child are right quite a lot, particularly with deferral. Sometimes all you need is a wee bit of hope, a big bit of courage and another wee bit of encouragement when it comes to your child. You are not alone when it comes to deferral and it was the ‘Give Them Time’ campaign that gave me this. It is wonderful to share this with others and I hope the campaign gives others what it has given me. To parents out there, you are not alone and it’s okay to want your child to more than cope at school but to thrive.