WELCOME to The Twilight Zone. In our house we’ve crossed over into another dimension between parenthood and grandchildren – and pretty weird it is, too.
After so many years of attending school events, our son is now working full-time and our daughter is waiting to go to university, and we’ve realised the best years of your life are not your own schooldays, but your kids’.
We feel it especially in the summer, when other people’s kids are having sports days, school trips and summer concerts, and we’re not invited.
So it was nice, when a Swindon school was putting on a show last week, to be invited along by a friend, who happened to be one of the organisers.
I’m not ashamed to admit that at times I watched with a lump in my throat.
That’s because it wasn’t just any old school, but Uplands, which looks after the education of Swindon kids with special needs, where the motto is ‘Learning for life is fun’, and they damned well mean it.
It’s all for one and one for all at Uplands, so every single child plus the 19-25-year-olds who attend Uplands Educational Trust’s Learning Centre got to take part in the show, which was called Disney Comes to Uplands. That, in itself, is a terrific achievement.
I was over 40 before I discovered what it’s like to stand up in front of people and perform, so anybody who does that wins my admiration instantly.
To do it when you have other challenges to overcome is better still, and if you can do it with a smile on your face, as Uplands’ pupils did last week, then there is only one word for you. You’re a star.
And they weren’t the only stars. Anybody could see that it had taken a superhuman effort by all the staff to make the show such a hit, along with parents who came up with stunning costumes and props. They should feel as proud of themselves as their children.
It’s no wonder that the executive headteacher, Jackie Smith, came on stage at the end to say it made her feel “fabulous”, and that shows like this make the kids feel fabulous too.
I know the feeling. I can’t remember the last time I felt better entertained, more inspired, more uplifted or more filled with hope.
Unless you are involved with children with ‘special needs’ on a regular basis, you can’t really grasp what the term ‘special needs’ actually means, but about a quarter of the way through the performance, the penny dropped.
You see the thing about ‘special needs’ is there isn’t a formula for it, because every single child in Uplands has needs that are special – or individual – to him or her.
In the four or five weeks it took to create the show, the key was clearly working out what every single child was capable of contributing to its success.
But the staff also knew just how to give each of the kids just the right nudge to get them up there, and achieving more than they knew they were capable of.
In other words, the children who go there are lucky because, at Uplands, their individual needs are addressed.
If only that were true of all kids in all our schools, but politicians (of all colours) never stop spouting the same old trash about league tables and passing exams for long enough to realise that all kids are different. And special.
If only they would trust teachers to treat kids like kids again, rather than numbers, then they might all turn out as special as the kids at Uplands.