When children with disabilities are unlawfully excluded from school
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
It reached a stage where I would get home from the school & nursery run, then sit at the table and wait for the call that would inevitably come within an hour or so of him being at school... 'He's done this', 'He's said that', 'You need to come and get him'.
In 2009 when L was six, his diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder was still in the early stages. We were attending many appointments with several specialists and seeing his Paediatrician regularly. In the past nine years I have literally lost count of the specialists I have taken him to see, appointments must now run in to the hundreds.
Back in those early days, every day was a rollercoaster of emotions for L and myself. You didn't know if it was going to be a good or bad day, if he was even going to want to go in never mind the battle of actually getting him there. When you think about it, who can blame him? Who would want to go somewhere where they are very clearly not wanted?
I attended countless meetings with teachers and senior staff trying to help L, trying to put things in place to support his learning. One or two were supportive & did try to help, the rest (and most senior) just cast aspersions on my parenting and no progress was made in securing an IEP for him in the entire time he was a pupil there, because as they stated in a letter that I have, they wanted a formal diagnosis for him before they would consider anything. The SENCo - unfortunately for us - left to go on Maternity leave but didn't return after accepting a new position elsewhere, & I never once saw the new SENCo before I eventually withdrew L & J from the school.
L was branded naughty & disruptive. I was told that the parents of a child that L wanted to be friends with didn't want him around their child & L was seriously, as I live and breathe, called a 'stalker' by a senior staff member to my face. A six year old boy, with Autism, called a stalker for simply wanting a friend. L has a social communication disorder, he finds it hard to understand friendships & relationships. He was then prevented from playing with the other children at break time, he was made to play elsewhere - alone - after the other children had been asked first where they wanted to play before eventually just being made to sit in reception at break times.
I was told that L was violent and aggressive, and that his episodes of lashing out were not acceptable and he was a constant risk to the other children. Yes, I accept & admit that L had episodes of aggression and did on occasion lash out, and this is of course absolutely not acceptable under any circumstances, but 9 times out of 10 he would react violently only when provoked or surprised.
L is very sensitive to loud noises & a 'busy' atmosphere and would react if he was startled, which is to be expected in a playground of excitable children burning off some energy, and so this should have been observed more carefully & the negative behaviours could have been avoided. This would have meant in the first instance no distress for him, and also no injury to anyone else.
I suggested this, and they told me that this was impossible and they simply didn't have the staff to supervise him. They did however appear to have the staff to keep him ostracised from the other children.
He was not allowed to attend a trip to a local farm because the staff thought it would be far too dangerous and they didn't have anyone to supervise him. As it was local, I offered to attend with him, even arranging my own transport, but I was told no. I simply had to keep him home that day, he was not allowed to go under any circumstances.
Eventually, they started telling me that I had to collect him every single lunchtime and either take him home or sit with him in school away from the other children. At the time I was pregnant and suffering with SPD, walking an extra two round trips was very painful for me. Sometimes I was in that much pain I was unable to make the trip back to the school with him. My husband and parents were all at work and I had nobody to do it for me. As it was Winter it was of course very cold, and I had to bring a toddler out with me at the same time which negatively affected his health. They also started making J come with us too, he was soon being treated in the same manner as L. It started off with him being moved away from the other kids to eat his lunch, and eventually they just started sending him home as well.
L used to say things like he was better off dead, that he wanted to kill himself because he didn't have any friends and he was so unhappy at school. The day I removed both L and J from school, I arrived at lunchtime to find L & J sitting in reception outside the hall where the Christmas party was in full swing, kids running in and out wearing their party hats and enjoying their meal while L & J were made to sit and watch. As soon as I arrived and saw this, I took my sons and emptied their lockers and pegs and took them home for good.
At the time, I did not realise that the informal exclusions at break times and lunch times were illegal. I was led to believe that it was in the best interests of L and the other children that they were kept separate. However after doing some research I discovered that their treatment of my son was unlawful and discriminatory.
As stated in the Exclusion from Schools - Information for Parents/Carers leaflet I received on one of the two occasions where L was excluded formally;
“If a head teacher is satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, a pupil has committed a disciplinary offence and needs to be removed from the school site for that reason, formal exclusion is the only legal method of removal.
Informal and unofficial exclusions are illegal regardless of whether they are done with the agreement of parents and carers.
… If pupils are sent home in response to a breach of discipline, even for short periods of time, this must be recorded as an exclusion.
In every instance where a pupil is sent home for disciplinary reasons, head teachers should formally record and specify the length of the exclusion (for reporting purposes thus should be recorded as a half day, whole day, or lunchtime).”
According to guidelines, lunchtime exclusion is deemed to be the equivalent of half a school day in England and any exclusion for an indefinite period (including lunchtimes) is unlawful and that if my children were to have a lunchtime exclusion, the head teacher should send a letter home confirming this, and stating the number of lunchtimes my children will be excluded.
Despite having asked for the lunchtime exclusions to be recorded officially and given to me in writing, at no time did I ever receive this, only a letter stating that in the school's opinion it was best for me to collect both L & J at lunchtimes without dates for these exclusions to begin or end. This was not the first time this happened, as I was also made to collect L from school during lunchtimes in July 2009.
I sent a formal letter of complaint to the school, the Education Welfare Officer at the LEA and the Chair of Governors at the school (which I also copied to the wonderful GP who helped & supported me throughout this difficult time) but I never received a reply from any of them. Only recently when I was contacted by the lovely ladies at Contact A Family, a charity for families with disabled children, have I been able to look back through the paperwork I have kept from that awful time because it caused a deep depression in both myself and more importantly, L. Even now three years on, L talks about it and about how sad it made him. It just breaks my heart that I didn't move him sooner, I don't think I will ever get rid of that guilt.
The day I removed L & J, I took them to meet the headmaster at another school that was recommended to me by a friend, and the boys started there in the following January. I am pleased to say that L has never been happier. At his current school L is settled, happy and in a caring & secure learning environment with staff who are sympathetic but firm in their approach and who have absolutely pulled out all of the stops to give my boy the best possible education which is exactly what he deserves. The negative behaviours are managed in such a way that most of the time they are avoided all together, otherwise they are dealt with swiftly & fairly and in a lawful & appropriate manner and they always have my full support.
I don't think I can ever thank them enough or express exactly how much they did for me and my family just by accepting my son for who he is and helping him find his way in a world he doesn't understand. My son is a wonderful little boy who deserves the very best of everything & if I have to stand up and shout for him then I will, and I will continue to do so until I am listened to, to ensure his needs are met just like everyone else's.
Children with disabilities are unlawfully excluded from school in The Guardian yesterday, and the lovely Claire from A Boy with Asperger's (who also featured in the article under a different name) has appeared on Sky News Live & spoken about her experience on BBC Radio.
There must be consequences for schools found to be breaking these laws, ignorance of the rules is not an excuse. Unofficial & informal exclusions from school are UNLAWFUL and these incidents are damaging to the health & education of our children and their families.
This simply cannot continue, the schools need resources and training to enable them to deal with these situations correctly and within the law, every child has a right to an education and the help & support needs to be available to all parties before exclusion even becomes necessary.
Anyone concerned about any aspect of their disabled child's education should call Contact a Family's expert advisers on 0808 808 3555 and visit their website http://www.cafamily.org.uk.