The world is Coraline's oyster


Friend: Susan

Tell me about yourself

My name is Susan Douglas and I’ve worked in education for more than 25 years. I’m lucky enough to have two jobs! One at the British Council as Senior Schools Adviser meaning that I work with policy makers and practitioners in lots of countries around the world and secondly as CEO of the Eden Academy.

The Eden Academy is a group of five special schools in West London catering for children with complex needs. You can find out more about what we do there in this link:

How do we know each other?

We met each other at the British Council. My overriding memory of you is that you were always so positive and you were always smiling!

What did you write to me/say to me in the early days of Coraline’s arrival?

I told you that my key piece of advice was to avoid, as far as was sensible and possible, the temptation to join in with those who would want to categorise Coraline.

I told you that I had been inspired by, and completely subscribed to, the social model of education. In that model, we take a look at what a child’s needs might be and ensure we adapt ourselves to suit them, removing barriers that we might come across in the process. This is in contrast to the medical model which seeks to identify what is “wrong” with a child and then looks for ways to change them to suit how we see the world and its systems. 

I told you that I thought it was easy for people to say “this is the best thing to do for a baby born with Down's Syndrome” but that that was a dangerous and potentially damaging thing to do. It would be like saying “this is the best thing to do for a baby with a certain hair colour”…. 

So, my advice was to focus on these two questions: 

· What does Coraline need now? 

· How do we adapt the way that we see the world to ensure we enable and empower her to be the best that she can be?


Talk to me about 'the world is Coraline's oyster'

There will be medical things that are similar across the piste because of the chromosomal make up. But there are children with Down's Syndrome who will be beautifully suited to mainstream education  (and who will get qualifications) and others suited in a special school setting such as ours. That's a way away. The key thing to ask now is what does Coraline need? What can she achieve?

'How do we adapt the way we see the world to ensure we enable and empower her to be the best that she can be?'

The social model of inclusion is surprisingly simple and obvious and yet when someone first explained it to me (far too far I should say into my teaching career!!) it changed my outlook on education but more importantly on life really. It may sound a bit melodramatic but it really was true....all I had done to that point was try to ensure that all the children I met filled a particular space, got particular levels, achieved a particular grade....

What utter nonsense! If we had achieved that - and fortunately we haven't - we wouldn't have the brilliantly diverse, brilliantly eclectic society we have. What a terrible thing it would be if we forced everyone to be the same and yet that's what much of our society (and certainly our education system) seeks to do. If you can free your self from those constraints then the world is your (and Coraline's) oyster.

So...the key question is....what is the barrier that I need to remove to make sure that Coraline takes her next step successfully?

What are you passionate about?

Education – and ensuring that all children get the best possible deal in terms of accessing and engaging in that education. Oh – and I quite like my husband and my dog too!

What would you like to say to Coraline?

Anything is possible!

Anything you would like to add?

Just how much I have enjoyed reading your blog and seeing you and your family growing together. I have no doubt what a happy family environment you have created and I can’t think of a better start for Coraline. She’s a lucky girl. This is parenting plus – so it won’t be without its challenges but will potentially be even more rewarding as a result.

Note from Liz

I thought it was timely to post this guest blog from Susan as the theme of this week 19-25 March 2018, Down’s Syndrome Awareness week, is #inclusionmatters.

I received Susan’s messages when Coraline was about three weeks old and it was almost like changing a lane in a highway after reading them. I also felt honoured Susan had written to me as she is someone senior I very much look up to at work and is the most engaging and captivating public speaker. 

I wrote to her:

"I think it was a defining moment for me when I received your messages as it will really inform how I think about things. It actually brought out what the midwife said who visited, "just get to know your baby" and your message helped me realise that's how we go forward. I've read it and re-read it!" 

I feel like I understood things in a different way and I showed her words to many people at the time. It’s also why I set up the “guest topics” section on this website as I felt the insights I was receiving were so good I had to share them