Zara Todd: They Didn’t Want Me

Zara was born in 1985 in London. She attended a special school initially, then transferred to mainstream at the age of seven. She continued with mainstream education at secondary and then went on to university.

Here Zara talks about her experience a middle school that didn’t want disabled children.


I discovered a couple of years later, so still when I was a child that before I started at the school, they sent a letter round to all of the parents of my classmates, saying that if you didn’t want your child to be educated alongside the disabled student i.e. me, you could have them moved into a different class, I don’t know whether anyone took them up on that offer because obviously the people that were in my class were very aware that I was going to be in there, but I know for certain that that letter did go out because one of my friends from my primary school, her mother received that letter and was outraged and she was the one that told me about its existence. They were very, very determined to keep me as locked away as possible within that school, so I wasn’t allowed to go out at break times because of the logistics of getting me up and down stairs. They discouraged me from taking part in any of the activities that involved going off site, so I wasn’t allowed to learn to swim with my classmates or go on any trips. They really didn’t know quite what to do with me and didn’t enjoy my presence in the school. They would wait until I was out of classes to tell my classmates about opportunities like trips abroad or opportunities to be involved in school plays. They actively didn’t want me involved in anything. My transport to and from school and its fixed nature because I was transported with kids attending a local special school, so I had to fit into their transport rota, rather than what my school would necessarily do, which meant that I couldn’t take part in any activities that happened after school or before school cos my school day was incredibly fixed. The school kind of epitomised their shock at having to have me by on my last day at the school, aged twelve, the headmaster took me aside and turned round to me and went, 'Zara, we never wanted to have you at the school, but you’ve pleasantly surprised us'. Like that was meant to be some kind of compliment but actually saying that to a twelve year old, not the most conducive thing to positive self esteem. Luckily I’m stubborn and have an automatic reaction to want to defy anyone that tells me that I can’t do something or I shouldn’t be doing it. But in the same school I was told that I would never get any qualification or a GCSE, so why was I bothering? They were very, they had a very narrow perception of what I was capable of and it was very much a case of being tolerated by quite a large proportion of the staff in the school. There were some exceptions but the overwhelming sense was, I was a burden that they were having to accommodate because the local authority was giving them no choice.

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