Reigate Grammar School’s head urges greater understanding of special educational needs

Shaun Fenton was moved to write to fellow heads following a letter from a child living with ADHD

A headmaster was so moved by a letter from a child living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), explaining his struggles to be a ‘good student’, that he shared it with fellow heads and urged them to consider their attitudes to neurodiversity.

Reigate Grammar School head, Shaun Fenton, said the student ‘is simply asking to be valued and understood but has learned that being chatty or excited are somehow bad things. How awful.’

The author of the letter wrote: ‘I want to learn to calm down, I want to be more calm and less hyper… I want to learn to be more quiet… I want to learn.’

Related feature: Tracey Eldridge-Hinmers, a specialist education solicitor at Sinclairslaw, presents a guide to making adjustments for SEND pupils

Fenton said in his message to every headteacher in the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference: ‘I found this young man’s struggle to be a better student so moving. Of course, I know our schools already work hard to create a personalised learning journey for all the children in our care. We train teachers to support individual needs and we embrace neurodiversity as we embrace all the diversity that makes each child unique and special.

‘Our SEND [special educational needs and disability] provision is strong and responsive and yet I know from my own professional and parental journey that there is always more we can do.’

I think our strength in being responsive to neurodiversity is something parents understand better than the media or politicians

Fenton added: ‘I have been a headteacher of a comprehensive school, a state grammar school and academy before leading Reigate Grammar School, a top independent school, and I see the struggle that state schools have at the moment to provide what is needed for children with more complex needs at a time when resources are scarce.’

Fenton said that, although each HMC school each has a distinct ethos, he knows that each one seeks to build the school around the children in their care, rather than ask students to change to fit in.

The letter was shared with Fenton by the ADHD Foundation.

Shaun Fenton

Fenton said: ‘I think our strength in being responsive to neurodiversity is something parents understand better than the media or politicians. Many parents choose our schools because of the work we do in this area, which is at least as important as every place we secure at Oxbridge or every top grade our students secure in the exam rooms.

‘Let’s remember that the mood around climate change seems to have shifted with the speeches of Greta Thunberg, whose Asperger’s may have even supported the clarity of her purpose. Many high achievers are reported to have had ADHD, from JFK to Einstein to Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps to Bill Gates to Richard Branson to Pulitzer Prize-winning Katherine Ellison.

‘With the right support, in our schools we can provide the launchpad for all children. No child should feel they have to write a letter somehow apologising for who they are; rather we should support them to go on and be the best version of themselves.’

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