top of page

(UK) Derby: 'Increase in demand for special school places' leaves autistic 5y.o. without any

Aug 28, 2023, Derbyshire Live: Autistic Littleover boy can't start school until at least September next year

E. Midlands

Five-year-old Sam Jones should have been preparing for his first day in full-time education next week
An autistic Derby boy will not be able to start school until at least September next year after a host of issues with his applications. Five-year-old Sam Jones lives with his parents Louise Watson and Adam Jones in Littleover and should have been preparing for his first day in full-time education next week. But Derbyshire County Council took around 14 weeks longer than permitted to finalise Sam's EHCP (Education, Health & Care Plan) and when it was done, the schools that the council had applied for on his behalf said that they weren't in a position to meet his needs. Despite the fact the schools said it could not care for him, the council had signed off a legal document allocating Sam a place at one of them. It means that the family will now have to go through a tribunal process which could take up to a year to overturn the decision - and Sam could potentially miss the January deadline for September 2024 admissions too.

Mum Louise said: "If I didn't send my daughter to school, I'd be getting asked why. It's a legal requirement. But he's not going and that's okay, is it? He knows it, as well, that he's missing out on.

Derbyshire County Council acknowledged receiving Sam's assessment form on September 21, last year. The deadline for the council to send over a final plan, as per the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014, is 20 weeks after submission - so in Sam's case, late January or early February.

But the date came around and passed and the family had heard nothing. They had no luck contacting the county council, and say all four contact numbers they had been given rang out every time they tried to get through.

Louise said: "We'd email and ring constantly to ask for updates but got no response. Our allocated SEND officer, who is meant to support you has never ever spoken to us. Ever. We've never even heard her voice. She won't answer the phone or meet with us. They just ignored us the whole time."

The parents say it was only in May that something finally happened. An educational psychologist consulted with them over the phone to assess Sam's needs himself, despite the fact that a video or face-to-face assessment is recommended to understand the child.

Sam was assessed on the phone as being suitable for a mainstream school rather than a specialist one. The council completed the final EHCP in June - 17 weeks late - and consulted three schools, including the mainstream Highfields Spencer Academy, in Littleover, and another of the parents' choice, Holbrook School for Autism near Belper.

Ms Watson and Mr Jones weren't happy, however, with the phone assessment, as they believed Sam had too many needs for a mainstream school to deal with. They pleaded for an in-person assessment and were finally given one in July.

When it happened - as the parents expected - it resulted in the EHCP being amended drastically, due to Sam's autism appearing much more severe in person than it had over the phone. The recommendation changed from a mainstream to a specialist school.

This news meant the process had been further delayed - but by this point, the schools consulted had already assessed their suitability for Sam based on the old EHCP - and all four rejected him. But Ms Watson says the council didn't inform her of this.

She only found out Highfields had rejected him by talking to a teacher at the school. And she only found about about their own choice Holbrook School rejecting them - due to being full by August - when it was briefly mentioned in a response to a formal complaint she had lodged with the council about the lack of communication.

Deflated and devastated, and with no chance to view other potential schools because of the summer holidays, the parents decided to wait for the new term and hoped they could be at the front of the queue for September 2024 admissions in October.

Ms Watson emailed the council and said she "practically begged" them not to finalise the EHCP. Then an email came through.

"We're pleased to inform you that Highfields Spencer Academy has been selected as your choice" it read.

The Academy itself, Ms Watson then discovered, hadn't even been informed that they were due to take Sam on - despite having already told the council they couldn't meet his needs.

Ms Watson told the headteacher in a meeting at the school a few days later.

The finalisation means that around £10,000 worth of funding may now have been already allocated to Highfields. Because of the legality of the EHCP, it means the school is now legally obliged to care for Sam, even though they rejected him based on his previous, less severe assessment.

His enrolment means that the parents can't apply for another school in October. They are now taking the decision to an independent tribunal in an attempt to get Sam off the books - a process that could take up to a year in itself.

In the meantime, Sam, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and global development delay at the age of two, is stuck indoors at home. Mum Louise will act as his full-time carer….

"He's regressed quite a lot since nursery. When he knows we're going to the same place we've been before and it's nothing new and exciting, it's hard to get him out of the house."

Sam's dad Adam added: "Because he's got special needs, I think an education is even more important than it would be otherwise. He can't afford to be held back at all - he already is naturally by nature of how he is. The fact he's being held back a year, or maybe even two, I think is a bit disgraceful really.

"This could have all been avoided, largely, if they'd just communicated. Just acknowledge us and tell us when it'll be done. When you're just talking to a brick wall you lose interest."

A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council said: “While we can’t comment on individual cases, Derbyshire has had a significant increase in the number of requests for Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and for the assessments and advice that go along with these. This is a national issue and other local authorities are facing similar increases in demand.

“As a result of this, our performance in completing some EHCPs within the 20-week deadline has been impacted and has led to delays in completing some of them on time. We are extremely sorry for any children, families and schools who are being negatively affected and we are working extremely hard to improve our performance."

Derbyshire County Council says it is investing significant additional staffing resources to address EHCP challenges as well as reviewing and restructuring its services to manage demand in the future. It added that the additional staff are being deployed to both catch-up and finalise those that have gone over the deadline and to also keep current and new plans within the 20-week timescale.

The spokesperson continued: “At the same time we have had an increase in demand for special school places. We are working with the special schools to increase the places available. Where there are delays in identifying a special school place for a child we will work with the family and the existing schools or provision to look at what alternatives can be provided.”

Sam spends all day at home while his sister goes to school (Image: Derby Telegraph)


bottom of page