Minister promises to probe council demanding thousands for school support


theweek120by150The children’s minister has promised to investigate a local authority that is demanding thousands of pounds from mainstream schools towards the cost of pupils with high support needs.

The mother of one of the disabled children affected by the new policy had attended a joint meeting of all party parliamentary groups (APPGs), including those on disability, learning disability and children.

Their case was raised by the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who said it demonstrated her continuing concerns about the difficulty of securing mainstream school places for children with high support needs.

She told the meeting that her own education had been held back because she had not enjoyed “the privilege of a mainstream school”.

She said: “I have brought a little boy, a young boy, highly educated, who wants to go to a good secondary school and wants to be just like me when he grows up.”

The family had contacted Baroness Campbell in desperation, because she has the same impairment as 11-year-old Carter, spinal muscular atrophy.

The family, from south London, have been told by their local council – the London borough of Wandsworth – that any school Carter attends has to contribute £6,000 towards his support costs.

Carter’s mother – who asked for her surname not be used – told the Conservative education minister Edward Timpson that the process of transition from primary to secondary education had been “a complete nightmare”, with the local authority continually putting up barriers to their efforts to find a mainstream secondary school for Carter.

She said it was now the council’s policy to ask all schools to contribute £6,000 towards the costs of students with high support needs, and that, because of this policy, finding the right school for Carter had become “near-on impossible”.

Timpson told her: “I will pursue it and look carefully at the exact situation, to find out exactly what is going on.

“It is not good enough for the barriers to be put in the way and for you to feel that you are fighting for something that should be delivered by your local authority and others.”

Timpson said the government’s new children and families bill, which was published last month, would include duties for families to be “consulted properly” by local authorities on their child’s needs.

He said that parents in the areas covered by “pathfinder” projects testing out parts of the bill were “seeing a change in attitude from the professionals who are meant to support them rather than feel they are trying to do everything other than support them”.

But a Wandsworth council spokesman suggested – in a statement released just before Disability News Service’s final deadline – that its policy was introduced as part of the government’s own reforms.

He said: “Under government reforms, schools will provide the first £6,000 of the child’s special educational needs (SEN) support, but will have delegated SEN budgets to enable this.”

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told the meeting: “The disappointing thing in all of this is that it is 33 years since my father threatened to sue the secretary of state for Wales for failing to include me in the mainstream, and so little has changed.”

She asked for families who had not been able to secure mainstream school places for their disabled children to email details to her ([email protected]), a request repeated by Baroness Campbell ([email protected]) and their fellow disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low ([email protected]).

The APPG meeting also heard from four young disabled people – Patrick Mahaffey, Tiri Hughes, Scott Mills and 16-year-old Billy – who talked about what they wanted from the bill.

Scott spoke of the support he will need to get a job and live independently; Patrick described the importance of the care and support he had received since he acquired a brain injury; and Billy talked of the importance of proper work experience for disabled teenagers.

The fourth young person, 14-year-old Tiri Hughes, who is partially-sighted, described the importance of the support she had received at a mainstream secondary school.

She told the minister: “Without the support I am entitled to, I know I would not be able to achieve my goals.”

20 March 2013

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