Tuesday, 20 February 2018


 Early in my teaching career I witnessed the devastating impact of a pupils death on that childs classmates and the school as a whole. I quickly realised that there was very little support and guidance on how best to support children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities) with grief. At times the grief of these children was either ignored or not fully acknowledged, with staff not knowing how to deal with the difficult situation.
Death is a certainty for us all and although we may not wish to think about it, we all experience death and we all experience other forms of loss (such as the loss from a close friend moving far away or the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation). Most children are fortunate in that their first experience of death doesnt normally occur until they are older, maybe as a teenager with the death of a grandparent. Children with SEND often experience death at a much younger age due to the nature of the medical conditions that some children in special education have.
When working in special schools severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties and complex needs I experienced (on average) the death of one pupil a year.
Consider for a moment that if a child joins a special school aged four, by the time s/he leaves aged 16, there could well have been as many as 12 children die in that school.
S/he may not have known all of those children well, but the impact of those deaths will be immense. How many of us experienced 12 deaths by the time we were 16? And this doesnt take into consideration any deaths that may occur outside of the school environment.
UK educational statistics show that up to 70 per cent of schools have at least one bereaved pupil on roll at any one time (Holland, 1993). In one survey 78 per cent of 1116-year-olds said that they had been bereaved of a close relative or friend (Harrison and Harrington, 2001). By the age of 16, 1 in 20 young people will have experienced the death of one or both of their parents (Parsons, 2011).
At the time of writing this book there was no specific data available that showed the number of bereaved pupils in special schools. My personal experiences and research indicate that all special schools will have at least one bereaved pupil on roll every day of every school year. This includes pupils who are bereaved due to the death of family members, as well as those who have experienced the death of a classmate or friend at school. Following the death of a pupil, there will often be periods of time where whole classes and even the entire school community are grieving.
I passionately believe that all children need to be well supported with their grief and although this support could be better for all young people, it most definitely needs to be improved for children with SEND. Children with SEND are more likely to be affected by grief at a younger age and in greater frequency than typically developing children. This, combined with the understanding and communication difficulties that SEND children have, only strengthens the importance of them having good bereavement education and support.
So, are death, bereavement, loss and grief part of your school curriculum and culture? If not, ask yourself why. Im sure it is not due to a lack of need. Is it instead more to do with a lack of training? Or a lack of awareness of its importance? Or do staff not want to acknowledge that children with SEND experience grief (because they dont truly understand and value the childrens emotions and loss)? Or could it be due to staff personally being unable to handle and discuss death and other forms of loss? 

A Special Kind of Grief by Sarah Helton 
The complete guide for supporting bereavement and loss in special schools (& other SEND settings)

Remembering Lucy by Sarah Helton 

A children's story book about grief and bereavement in a school

Both books are published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and are available from AmazonWaterstones and all other good book sellers.

Bereavement & Loss Widgit Resource Pack - A set of symbol resources designed for children, young people and their families to help them through the process of bereavement and loss.
Available from www.widgit.com

Friday, 16 February 2018


Apologies for the lack of a post last week. I had forgotten how all absorbing moving house is and being in the midst of unpacking the days went by unheeded. That could be the first line of a poem...
Last Saturday evening I had one of those brief moments of illumination. I was washing up, late at night, after everyone else was in bed and as I picked up the rice pan the water in it swirled, for one second it felt like the whole of reality turned around that pan.

the water
in the burnt rice pan




the axis of the universe
I welcome those moments of other worldly awareness. I think William Blake was correct when he urged people to cleanse the doors of perception. What a prophet the man was.
The end of last year I was travelling on the train from Totnes to Taunton one Saturday morning and marvelling at the beauty of the seascape. I wrote this:

train travel in Devon

a winter morning estuary

grey tidal flats

the still water
tight fisted mercury
unwilling to spend
more than a farthing's reflection

who would want to be anywhere else?
I saw Martha Tilston last Friday evening. She was superb as ever. Here is Stags Bellow.
I have a guest post for next Tuesday. Sarah Helton has been kind enough to write about her new book.
Until then.

Friday, 2 February 2018


I have just moved house and subsequently have had no internet, hence no post last week. It was attached yesterday. I am back.
Here is a poem about that point in the house sale when you are sat on the stairs waiting for the transactions to go through.

he tells me it will happen
at some point
because it always does
you will end up sitting on the stairs
all actions halted
until the money is transferred
from that bank to another bank
and this house will cease to be your home
while another
somewhere else
equally empty
assumes that title
and as you unlock its front door
you will hope it will be a happy one
I realise that I am in a privileged position to have the opportunity to move when I want to.  

the wasp and the window

wrong side of the glass
beyond comprehension
but repeat the action until
I have been there too
so have you
This is an older poem that I wrote after liberating a wasp.
I've not set up the sound system yet. I'm listening to music on a sound bar courtesy of my DX50. 
Here's Sean Taylor. He's doing a brief UK tour in March.
This is So Fine
Until next time.

Friday, 19 January 2018


 Thank you for your patience in waiting for this poem to unfold. I have been prompted to present it over three posts from the feedback I have received when I have read the entire poem.
Vainly I wanted the individual pieces of the poem to be considered for what they are.
This fifth [and final] part concerns the fallout from the event. Some people were, I have read, were committed for their own safety, having had some mental disturbance prompted by the effects of the solar flare.
I read of one young woman who had suffered some sort of breakdown and been committed to the local sanitarium. Apparently a young doctor had managed "to cure" her through conversation. I imagine some form of analysis before Freud.

Perceptive beyond the age in which he lived,
the doctor at the asylum simply talked with her,
and traced the misconceptions that had led to her commitment:
an overly religious childhood,
the phenomena occurring on a Sunday,
an obvious connection.

Her personal weight of guilt took longer to unravel,
but it was a common enough story:
the pressure of the over attentive lodger,
her chronic need to please,
a lonely Saturday before the phenomena.

He talked her back to a place in this world.
Phew! That's it. Hope it makes sense and that you enjoyed it.
Normal service will be resumed next post.
Until then here is the sublime Annabelle Chvostek. Annabelle how about a tour of England? Please?
Until next time.

Friday, 12 January 2018


This post is a continuation of the last post. 
I have been writing about the 1859 solar flare. It is sometimes known as the Carrington Event, after the astronomer who observed the sun flare.
Last post I shared the first two parts of the poem. Here are the next two. The first concerns those people in America [where the effects were experienced most acutely as it was night time]. The event took place on a Sunday and many people interpreted it from a religious perspective thinking it was the end of the world.
The second poem is more fanciful. I had read that the telegraph system was powered by the solar flare. Someone discovered that if the batteries were disconnected from the telegraphic equipment it would still work.
I wondered what if the Sun had wanted to speak to us and its words had been picked up by a telegraph operator and discarded.

Cut to midnight America:
Drawn out of doors
to stare at the false dawn light sky,
to wait for a miracle,
unsure if they really wanted one,
then going back to bed
the morning is Monday.

Apart from the worried ones,
the ones that drank in the park until it didn't matter any more.
The ones who woke at first light baptised in dew.

Beneath the power of the sun,
even the telegraph system went down
but there was this one operator,
having figured out the battery had to be disconnected,
that the solar storm would power the wire,
who listened to the letters chatter
as the key talked unaided.

He was a remorseful man and
the reproving words of love from the sun
amplified the burden he carried.
Halfway through the message he stopped writing,
tore the paper, put it in the waste bin.
No one ever knew.
I shall post the fifth part next time.
Here is more Arthur Lee and Love.

Until next time.

Friday, 5 January 2018


I've been working on a rather long poem for some time now. It came about after I read about The Great Solar Storm of 1859. I'd first heard of it in passing a number of years ago and when I came across a more detailed reference it led me to research the topic more thoroughly, which in turn led me to want to write about it.
There are a number of reasons why the storm is significant. It was the first time a solar flare had been observed and its effects charted. Also because of the telegraph the effects of the storm could be followed across the globe [specifically Europe and America]. It was a global event. Thirdly it was of such a magnitude that if it happened today we would be in trouble as it would knock out satellites and cause havoc with our electronic equipment.
Here are the first two sections of the poem:

The Solar Storm of 1859 in Five Acts

The sun had been alone since creation,
ignored by the local stars,
who outshone it, bigger, brighter, better.
Gotten above ourselves, the sun reflected,
only it never reflected, it blazed, it burned
it turned hydrogen to helium,
shouting its light to an indifferent galaxy.

And its children disappointed.
Some had rings, that was true,
and most had managed to have moons of their own,
but that third one, the almost binary,
seemed intent on throwing away
any advantages the Cinderella zone had bestowed.

So the sun flared and the sun spat,
a ball of plasma tumbling through space
and the earth took it square on the jaw.

At this point I invent an imaginary ancestor
to people a cottage in Cheadle,
to walk out that night and look up
at the shimmering green blanket
of the Northern Lights that far south.
I was after achieving different voices for each part of the poem. This is why the first section is light and I hope humorous. In the second section I wanted to show how far south the Northern Lights came due to the solar flare.
Once I started reading about the event I wanted to convey some of its magnitude to the reader.
The Cinderella Zone is  the distance from a sun that offers the best opportunities for life to evolve. The earth and its large moon could almost be a binary planet.
I leave you with Arthur Lee and the last incarnation of Love.
Superb stuff. Forever changes is one of my all time favourite lps. I think I'm on my third copy, having worn the other two out.
Until next time and the rest of this poem.

Saturday, 30 December 2017


A revised poem this post. thanks to Paul Mortimer for his observations on how the poem should look on the page. You can read the first draft here.


At first I thought you slept,
lost in the self-profiling bed,
amid the necessary machinery
that crowds your room these days.
Can't say how I knew,
something kinetic had gone,
slipped away in that last sigh,
the one I missed, stuck in traffic.

We wait for the duty nurse to sign you off.

Mourning begins,
as if everyday we had not wished you
to be at peace.
And now you are gone,
leaving the four of us
with our individual beliefs of what comes after.
I don't want to talk about the origins of this poem.
I do however want to thank all of you for visiting this blog since it began in May 2011. 
I looked at the stats the other day and was delighted to discover that over 500,000 people have visited the site since then.
Thank you all.
I leave you this week with Laura Marling singing Wild Fire.
Until next time.