Life Before School
Up to the age of four and a half, before I started school, my
life was great. I remember my life was happy with my Mum, Dad and
sister and in photos I always was smiling. In those days I was a
real fan of Thomas the Tank Engine and many weekends were spent
visiting Steam railways. My mum didn't go out to work and was a
full time mum instead. She was always there for me and my younger
sister Clare. We visited our Nan and Grand-dad most Sundays and
Grand-dad used to take Clare and I to the nature reserve, Perivale
wood, nearby his home. It was here he introduced me to nature and
showed me things like slow worms and frogs, allowing me to gently
handle them. He started to teach me how important it is to care
for our planet. He sometimes took me down to his allotment to pick
vegetables for Sunday roast. He and Nan read lots of stories to
us and our weekends were always great fun. When I was growing up
in the pre-school years the world seemed a kind happy place and
I never felt "different."
Life at School
When I went to school in 1995, I started to notice I was different
from the other children in the school. I could not do many of the
things they could do. I couldn't hop or skip. I was not as good
a runner or as fast as the others, so when we played tag I was always
caught but could never catch anyone. In class I kept falling off
my chair. I was unable to write quickly so my work was never finished
and the teachers started to get annoyed with me. I always knew what
to write but could not get my ideas down on paper quickly but I
was very good at reading.
I used to bump into people by accident and, understandably, this
upset them or irritated them because they were convinced I was doing
it on purpose. One incident I remember well was when I was running
around the playground, trying to get faster for sports day, when
a girl walked across my path. I could not stop in time and
was unable to adjust my direction in time, so I bumped into her
but apologised immediately. The teacher came over any way and told
me to apologise again, which I did, and that was the end of the
matter.Unfortunately I bumped into the same girl again later that
day. The same teacher came over and told me off. I tried to explain
it was an accident. He laughed and said that once could be an accident
but twice was definitely on purpose. My punishment was to stand
outside the head teachers office for the rest of playtime.
As the weeks and months passed, the teachers got more irritated
with me. Most of the children ignored me or teased me. I only had
one or two friends and became more and more of a loner. I spent
many of my playtimes outside the head teachers office having been
told off for yet another "accident".
Each time my mum and Dad went to parents evening , they were told
I was lazy, clumsy and did not pay attention in class. The things
I was good at, such as reading, went unnoticed and people concentrated
on the things I was not good at. No matter how hard I tried I could
By Year 3, I was being seriously bullied, physically and mentally,
and I felt unwelcome and alone. At home I got in from school and
I would shout, cry, and take out my unhappy school life on my family,
especially my sister Clare. I was angry with my Mum and Dad
for sending me to school. I know now they were trying their best
to sort things out for me but the staff at school were unwilling
to listen.Now for me the world no longer seemed a happy place. I
had learnt how cruel children and adults could be.
In 1998, we moved to a new area and I started year 4 in a new
School. This year was one of the best years of my school life .
My teacher didn't focus on the negative side of my work and she
always praised me, which made me want to work hard. So my
work improved and my self belief increased. I was treated well
by the children as well, because the teacher was not always complaining
about me, so the children accepted me for who I was and didn't care
I could not do things as well as them, especially sport.
By the end of year 4, my work had improved and I was happy and
confident and at parents evening my teacher told my Mum and Dad
that I was almost at the top of the class, especially in literacy
and that I had a great imagination. I was still having difficulty
writing quickly but my teacher did not worry about that, she just
gave me extra time to finish.
I entered my new class in year 5 confident that I could continue
progressing well with my school life. That was the biggest mistake
of my life! Within a few days it was clear that my teacher found
me irritating and had very little patience with me. She constantly
complained about my handwriting and the speed of my work in front
of the class. She accused me of skipping pages and reading
too quickly, even though I have always been a good reader. On one
occasion she questioned me in front of the whole class about a book
we had been reading. I was very humiliated but answered every single
question correctly about the chapter we had read.
She was annoyed I had answered them right and I saw her turn the
page to a different chapter,which we had not covered yet. She asked
the question and I said that I thought the question was from later
on in the book. She then accused me of lying and told me to read
the two chapters before it, as well as the the same chapter again.
This was one of my typical school day incidents, all of which left
me humiliated and angry and my self confidence began to disappear.
My teacher's behaviour towards me caused some of my classmates to
change the way they thought of me and how many of them treated me.
They told me I was stupid and thick and no one would spend time
with me at break.They began to make fun of me in P.E and criticised
my work. In addition to the name calling some individuals became
violent towards me. I was much smaller than them and could not fight
back. My belongings were damaged and began to disappear and reappear
in a different place, which often caused me to get into trouble
for wasting my teachers time. I felt unhappy and lonely and I kept
wondering why I was different. I was beginning to worry my parents.
They approached my teacher and talked to her about my problems.
She was unwilling to listen and used it as an excuse to tell them
about all the things I couldn't do.
My parents began to wonder what was causing my troubles. One day,
that question was unexpectedly answered. It had been an ordinary
day for me. I had gone to school, after great persuasion from my
mum, and had a normal morning of abuse that had become part of my
daily timetable. My mum was looking around a bookshop and found
a book which attracted her attention. She read the blurb and realised
she had read a piece of writing that could have been written about
me. After buying and reading the book, Dyspraxia, The Hidden Handicap
by Dr Amanda Kirby, she realised she may have found the cause of
my problems. After talking it over with me and a visit to our
GP, we were given an appointment to see a paediatrician. Finally,
in May 2000, I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a disability
which stops messages to and from the brain being transmitted properly
through the nerves and causes many problems, including poor co-ordination,
poor concentration and difficulties with writing. I was assessed
by an occupational therapist and physiotherapist and then began
physiotherapy sessions to help with my motor skills. We felt relieved
that there was a reason for my problems and I was not, as so many
teachers had told my parents, "lazy" or "stupid.".
My parents went and explained to the school what my problems were
and hoped I would get the help I needed. I was put on special needs
and an individual education plan drawn up, full of ideas which were
supposed to help. However, these ideas were used for a short while,
then ignored. My teachers continued to complain that I did not work
fast enough and the bullying by children got worse. Despite many
meetings between the head teacher and my teachers and parents, nothingimproved.
My parents have since told me that it was denied by the staff that
I was bullied and one member of staff told me I "enjoyed"
By March 2001, school had become unbearable. I was regularly punched
and kicked by the bullies and had to tolerate constant verbal abuse
and could not concentrate on my work. At home I was having nightmares,
wasn't eating properly, felt depressed and at times felt like killing
myself. I just shut myself away in my room and listened to my Robbie
Williams CD's, hoping someone would take the pain away. Something
had to be done and as the school were unwilling to accept I needed
help, my parents were left to make a difficult decision. After much
discussion and research it was decided I would come out of school
and on 6th April 2001 I officially left school and began home education.
Life after school
I have now been home educated for 6 months and I am at last enjoying
the freedom of learning without the hassles of school. I am happy
and settled and now the future looks brighter and I look forward
to each day instead of dreading it.
This is my story so far. It has been a difficult life at times.
I have met many bad people but some good people too, who have helped
me through the miserable days. My experiences have made me who I
am and I hope the lessons I have learnt will stay with me and will
help make me a kind caring person.
My Life Since Leaving school
I have been out of school a whole year now, and I thought it was
time to write an update. My sister still goes to the school where
I suffered at the hands of bullies, and I sometimes feel guilty,
because she is hassled by the same children. They tell her that
they miss kicking my head in. I still see them sometimes when I
take my dog for a walk. They swear at me, threaten me and
refer to incidents that happened at school. They seem proud of what
they did, which means the school not only let me down but let them
down too, which makes me sad.
Since I started home education, life for me has changed. I have
gained so much more self belief and confidence. I have realised
that as a person I am not thick, stupid or useless. Although I can't
do some things too well, because of dyspraxia, there are many things
I am good at and I focus on them. At home I am given encouragement
and support by my family, which has helped me grow as a person.
I don't feel depressed any more and feel safer than I ever did when
I was at school. Yes, I still have dyspraxia but now the difficulties
it causes me are much easier to cope with because I have greater
opportunity to find ways of overcoming them. The greatest improvement
I have made is with my writing. I have my own computer and this
has given me a new freedom to express myself. At school, I did not
have access to a computer and I could not get my thoughts down quickly
enough, so the staff and children thought I was ignorant.
Starting up my website has been my greatest achievement, since
leaving school. Sharing my story has allowed me to get a weight
off my chest and helped me come to terms with what happened to me.
I have had hundreds of e-mails from people thanking me for my website
and sharing their stories with me, so now I know that there are
many others out there who have had similar experiences to me and
I that I am not alone. I have also realised that there are
more good, kind people in the world than I thought, some of
whom are now my e-pals. I would like to thank everyone who has contacted
me, for all their encouragement and for helping me to realise
how much good there is in the world.
Setting up my website has also given me an opportunity to help
others, which is something very important to me. I do not want my
experiences to go to waste and want to use them so I can support
In December last year, a journalist, who was writing an article
for Family Circle about bullying, contacted me via my website and
asked if she could interview my Mum and I. Originally our interview
was to be part of a long article about the scandal of serious bullying
throughout UK schools and the need for intervention from the Government.
Unfortunately the main article was dropped a few weeks before it
was due to be published, because Estelle Morris, the Minister for
Education, announced new measures to deal with bullying in schools
and the magazine felt the article was "yesterday's news."
She has given Heads the power to exclude bullies from a school,
after the first offence, if their behaviour is serious enough, but
this is only useful if the school recognise cases of bullying and
listens to the victims. It seems that for now the problem
is as bad as ever, with another victim taking her own life
just last weekend. I was disappointed that the entire article was
not published, but our interview appeared in the April edition of
Family Circle, although it was edited!
Today I am different from the demoralised, sad, scared person
I was, when I left school for the last time last year. I feel stronger
and have a better sense of my purpose in life. The next few years
are like a blank page for me to write and I am looking forward to
all the opportunities that may come to me. Matthew A-F, 18
Looking to the Future
Well, it's been a whirlwind since I last wrote an update! I've
been an MK Hero finalist, I've joined Shed MK, I've been on TV and
Radio to help spread awareness of dyspraxia and bullying. Plus,
more recently, my family and I have designed a leaflet to help raise
awareness of dyspraxia. Now I look back on it, I've been doing much
more than I thought!
In October 2002, my parents nominated me for MK Heroes,
a local event which brings unsung heroes of Milton Keynes into the
light. Surprisingly, I got through to the final. Although I didn't
win, I still had a wonderful evening, and helped to show the audience
how dyspraxia effects me. This event also started a friendship with
many people at BBC Three Counties radio, who have all been very
supportive to me. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them
Skipping forward a few months, I joined Shed MK, a branch of the
Chicken Shed Theatre company, in February 2003. Through this, I
have made many friends and learnt lots of new things. While I am
at shed, I feel wanted, like I am really good at something, and
I'm respected by everyone, just like I respect them.
I have used every opportunity I can to speak on the radio, TV
or in magazine interviews abut dyspraxia and bullying and will continue
to do so as long as I keep getting emails telling me your stories
that things aren't right in our schools.
Our Dyspraxic Fantastic leaflet is ready and we hope to start
distributing it around schools in the UK in the New Year.
When I look back on my experiences at school, I feel really pleased
and proud that have managed to turn them into something positive.
Time Marches on
Well, it's been over a year since my last update to this page!
And there's been so much going on! I've been in a show with Shed MK,
I've started doing voluntary work with Interaction MK,
and I've passed two science short courses with the Open University,
and have just started on a third.
Although, it's not all been plain sailing. I still see the people
who bullied me at school every now and again, and occasionally they
will attack me. Once or twice we have called in the police, but
I'm learning to see the bullies for the people they are and that
no matter what they throw at me, I will always come out on top.
I'm now 15 years of age, so it's getting to that time where I have
to consider the future. I've been thinking about what i want to
do for a career, but haven't really decided yet. Although, I think
anything that helps other people would be a good career choice.
And so, a chapter ends
In the past 5 years since I started this website, I've grown in
so many ways. I've grown in confidence, I've had life changing experiences,
I've met some fantastic people, and discovered for the first time
that the world isn't so bad after all. The first few years of my
life were hell. But looking back on it all now, in a way I'm glad
I had the experience of life in school, and what it's like to be
bullied, because in the long run, I think it's made me a better
person. It's made me strive to prove the people who doubted me wrong,
to show that I'm not a stupid little boy who'll never amount to
anything, but an intelligent, bright young man, who could go on
to follow his dreams and become whatever he wants. And I think that
the news I'm about to tell you proves beyond all doubt that I'm
taking the first step towards my dreams!
In January 2006, I applied for a place on a media course at Milton
Keynes College. I was interviewed by the course leader, and I showed
him some of my previous work, including my various bits of creative
writing and several films. He was seriously impressed, and I could
tell he wanted me on the course. So the ball was set rolling, and
I got a place on the course! I am starting college in 3 days time.
I'm so nervous, but also very excited. This is whole new chapter
in my life, as I'm leaving home education and going back into the
world of mainstream education.
I don't really want to say this is the end of my story, because
it's not... it's just the end of one chapter, and the beginning
of another. I'll finish by updating you on something I left hanging
in the air during my last update... remember me saying I hadn't
decided on a career yet? Well, now I have... and I'm setting my
sights on a career in media, perhaps at the BBC Natural History
Unit... after all, I do love nature! So, if in a few years time,
you're watching a nature documentary, and you spot my name in the
end credits, remember my story, and the lesson it teaches. I think
I can sum up that lesson by quoting the following lyrics:
"No matter what they tell us, No matter what they do
No matter what they teach us, What we believe is true."
Says it all really doesn't it? If you're starting out in the world,
having just been diagnosed with dyspraxia, don't loose hope! It's
not the end of your hopes and dreams, it's just the beginning! Believe
in yourself and keep reaching for the stars.
Matt Alden-Farrow, September 2006
Onwards and upwards
When I last wrote on this page, it was September 2006 and I was
about to embark on a BTEC National Diploma in Media, at Milton Keynes
College. For me starting college after 5 years of being home educated
was a real challenge. I had to go through a period of adjustment,
getting used to a busy, sometimes noisy, learning environment again,
meeting deadlines, working with my peers and arriving to college
on time each day! It was hard work and took time, but I did settle
into college life and for the last 18 months I have been applying
myself to my studies, in an effort to achieve the best grades I
can. Some of my work is availabe to view at the College
Movies link, if you would like to see the kind of practical
work I have been doing. I am currently working on my final major
project and then I will have completed the course. I am on target
to achieve a triple distinction overall in the course. I have really
enjoyed my time with MK college and have gained much from it, but
have to pay tribute to all the tutors and the learning support staff,
who have all been such a fantastic support to me throughout. They
have encouraged me and mentored me in a way I have never experienced
before and it is thanks to them that I now have the confidence to
move forward to take on the next challenge in my life, university.
There was a time when even considering going to university was
beyond my wildest dreams. After all, I was home educated from the
age of 11 and as such do not have GCSE to my name, but I have been
offered places at two universities, providing I pass my Btec Diploma,
with the necessary grade. If all goes to plan, in September 2008,
I shall be starting a BA hons degree in Television Production, at
Middlesex University. My aim is to achieve my degree and go on to
seek a career in televison editing. I am so excited at the thought
of what the future holds for me and although leaving home is going
to be the greatest challenge yet, I feel motivated and I am ready
to take that challenge on.
I think for the first time ever I can now say to the bullies and
the doubters, that I made it, despite their behaviour towards me
and the lack of support I received from my school. In fact I think
I made it because of that, as their comments and actions have only
served to make me all the more determined to succeed in all I do.
If I have learnt one lesson to share it would be, never listen to
those who judge or doubt you. Your future is in your hands and you
can achieve anything you want to, if you want it enough.
Matt Alden-Farrow, March 2008