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(UK) Manchester: Severely autistic boy misses school for 2 and half yrs; 'tip of an iceberg'

Feb 6, 2023, Manchester Evening News: 'My son didn't go to school for years. His case is the tip of an iceberg'

NW England

The mother of a severely autistic boy who has missed education for two-and-a-half years is finally sending him to school. Allana Carvells reached an agreement with Salford council for 10-year-old son Joshua to be taken to Kingfisher School in Oldham, from her home in the Walkden area of Salford.

The deal, in which she has been given an allowance to organise a taxi service herself, brings to an end a long-running wrangle with the council over Joshua's transport to the special school. "It's been a long and arduous process," said the mother of five, "but Joshua is finally going to get to school and meet his new classmates."

Joshua was placed at Kingfisher School after she was told by Salford city council that there were no places for SEND (special educational needs and disability) children in the borough.
And the Carvells' plight has brought to the surface other difficulties in education provision for SEND children in a city in which thousands of children have been identified as requiring support.

Two recent cases, in which the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found against Salford city council, forcing it to compensate parents, have highlighted the pressure on the system.

As reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service on December 12, the Salford authority handed over more than £3,000 [$3,600] to the mother of a boy with autism, following failures which resulted in him missing four months of school.

Similarly, on November 4, it was reported that the Ombudsman slammed officers and senior managers at Salford who knew a girl was without education for two school terms but 'failed to take responsibility'. That mother received £4,000 [$4,800]….

The issues faced by the group of parents, who wish to stay anonymous, illustrate the scale of pressure on the system. All their claims have been put to Salford council, who say 'the underfunding of SEND services is a national issue and requires a national response'.

The parents include the mother of a 10-year-old with autism who claims he is not getting the speech therapy he needs. She first requested it because she was concerned that he was 'regressing', and paid for an expert report by a private speech therapist who recommended that he get a lot more support.

"The council refused to change his school and his plan," she continued. "I appealed this decision, and got further expert reports, supporting my claim that the council was not meeting my son's needs.

"The council conceded that he should move schools, but refused to change anything else." She took the council to an [Educational Needs and Disability] tribunal on August 23 and won….

"I am a member of various Salford parent carer forums and my experience is typical of many others," she added. This is a widespread and serious problem, with some children not going to school for months and months, not in the right schools, or getting the right support."

Describing her situation as 'the tip of the iceberg', she says she is now planning to take her case to the Ombudsman, adding: "In the meantime, my son is being failed every day."

Salford council says that where 'specialist provision is part of an EHCP plan' it can take time to source. Describing itself as 'acutely aware' of the impact of delays on families, the council said the 'far from ideal' situation 'reflects the resource pressures we face'.

The case of another mother, who has a 13-year-old with autism, highlights the duty local authorities have to educate children who struggle with mainstream school.

He first stopped attending in May 2019 because of mental health difficulties. His mother paid for an independent educational psychologist to assess him, and then complained to Salford authority about the lack of alternative provision for him under Section 19 of the Education Act - the law which places a duty on all councils to ensure that 'all children of compulsory school age, who by reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise, would not otherwise receive a suitable education in school are in receipt of such'.

After an application for an Education Health and Care Plan in June 2019, followed by an appeal, a complaint and a tribunal, the boy finally got a place at a school for children with emotional and mental health difficulties in January 2021, with social care provision awarded.

However, by October 2021 he had stopped attending again. An Ombudsman's complaint was upheld in January, 2022 over six months' missed education he missed, and Salford city council was ordered to pay his mother a total of £3,500 in compensation.

In all, the mother believes the council has paid almost two years' worth of fees - at £70,000 [$84,000] a year - to a school that isn't right for his needs, when she believes he needs to be educated out of school. In fact, in October 2022, following a tribunal, the mother got the alternative provision she had been fighting for.

"The crux of the issue here is the sheer lack of accountability that the council seems to have. People are frightened to complain because they might get known as a 'complainer'. Their communication, which is a huge issue, is absolutely awful."

Salford council says it acts in line with SEND regulations, but "we know that the council will not always get its responses right".

A third mum has two children with complex needs. Her son has been excluded 12 times and missed 20 school days, forcing her to quit her job….

Salford council said each of the nearly 9,000 cases in the borough with SEND requirements or a health plan involved an 'individual child' whose 'challenges can be specific, multi-faceted, complex and detailed", adding "there will always be improvements that can be made. "


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