top of page

(UK) "74% said their child’s [special] school place did not fully meet their needs"

May 5, 2022, i News UK: ‘My autistic son has been rejected by 12 schools – the special educational needs system is absolutely broken’

Near London

Sally Edwards says her son Toby and other children with special needs are being “sacrificed on the altar of austerity and budget cuts”

A 15-year-old boy with autism has gone without schooling for nearly 18 months after being rejected from 12 different special schools because of a lack of places.

Toby Edwards’ parents, who live in south London, have been forced to look as far afield as Cambridge to try to get their son into a school where he can receive the support he needs. His mother Sally Edwards says the ordeal had taken a huge toll on Toby’s mental health and showed that the system of special needs education was “absolutely broken” after years of austerity. Toby has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – needs which have been officially recognised with an education, health and care plan (EHCP). …

“He was in a bubble with other children and they would learn how to trigger him,” she tells i. “Toby when he has a meltdown he’s very loud and he cries, and they found that really entertaining to make him do that on a regular basis.”

With Toby spending more and more time out of the classroom seeking refuge in the school’s special needs department, his parents felt the time had come to put him in a special school.

“I didn’t want it to get to the point where he was school-phobic and school refusing, because so many autistic children end up school refusing,” Ms Edwards says. “He needs small classrooms, he needs specialists.” The school and the council, Lewisham, supported the decision, and the family applied to a local special school. However, they did not hear back until March, when they received a “very brutal no”. “My world sort of fell apart at that point,” Ms Edwards says.

Since then Toby has been refused by 11 more schools. “Every single school has either said they were full or they came up with another reason they couldn’t do it,” Ms Edwards says.

Toby has never hurt anybody and presents no safeguarding issues. “He’s a sweet kid who just gets really upset, and very down on himself.”

Toby’s situation is just one of many stories which together paint a picture of a special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system in crisis.

Schools say they do not receive enough funding to support pupils, while parents complain of having to jump through hoops and endure long delays to get the diagnoses and EHCPs which are necessary to get their children’s needs met.

A survey by the National Autistic Society (NAS) last summer found that 26 per cent of parents waited over three years to receive support for their child, while 74 per cent said their child’s school place did not fully meet their needs – a figure which has almost doubled since 2017. …

Tim Nicholls, head of influencing and research at the NAS, says that the education system “simply isn’t working for many autistic children and young people in England”.

“Families can often only get the support their children need after long fights and through expensive and stressful legal action. This is unacceptable.”

This was certainly the case for the Edwards family. For nine months, they received no support and had to get by with their best efforts at homeschooling. The pandemic made contacting the council almost impossible. “They’re all working from home, they just don’t return your phone calls,” Ms Edwards says. “My solicitor’s paralegal was phoning every single day for two weeks. Nothing… we just felt completely lost and abandoned.” ……

The Department for Education (DfE) is currently consulting on a new Green Paper for SEND provision in England. A spokesperson for the DfE told i that local councils were “responsible for school places for children in their area”, with the Government “increasing high needs funding by £1bn [$1.3B] this year”.

“We know the system of SEND support is inconsistent, which is why we’re consulting on widescale reform,” they said. “This includes proposals to set new statutory standards so parents and families can trust in a stronger system, and so there is better oversight and transparency with how schools and councils work together.”

Ms Edwards thinks the “absolutely broken” system is preventing children with special needs from reaching their full potential. …


bottom of page