Families’ pain over struggles to find places for children with special needs
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Two families in Lowestoft have described the heartbreaking struggle to get suitable education for their children who require SEN provision, after seeing them wait months to start school.
Chris and Karen Stride-Noble moved to Lowestoft from Surrey in October last year with their nine-year-old son Joseph, who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three, and daughter Charlotte, two.
Joseph suffers from behavioural issues and high anxiety and had been educated at a special school in Surrey before their move.
A meeting with The Landing, a facility in Lowestoft which provides education for children with higher functioning autism, resulted in an outside tutor for three hours a day for practical skills such as cooking being assigned to Jospeh.
However, Joseph has not had full time education for more than five months since April.
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The couple said work to get him into other schools resulted in him being turned away either because they could not meet his needs or because they were full.
An education, health and care plan (EHCP) was supposed to have been drawn up for him when they arrived but not been completed, according to the couple.
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Karen Stride-Noble, 38, said: 'He is entitled to a full time education but there doesn't seem to be anything to say what they are doing. There's a limit to how much we can take but we are hanging on by a thread.
'One of the worrying things is we are aware that there are so many people out there [wanting specialist places].'
Michaela Waitman, from Lowestoft, has four children, but only three of them returned to school last week. Her eldest son, Mason, 11, should have started at his new secondary school but has to wait until late October.
Mason, who struggles with high severity autism, ADHD, and a chromosome disorder, has been subject to months of protracted debate about his next step.
He was previously at Oulton Broad Primary School, which Mrs Waitman described as 'absolutely fantastic'.
On October 29 he will start at Acorn Park, a specialist autism school in Banham, Norfolk, which is an hour and 15 minutes drive from his home.
But to get him there, Mrs Waitman said she had to force a review of Mason's needs in February.
She also had to lodge a complaint in June after Suffolk County Council suggested the Benjamin Britten School - despite teachers and SEND officers agreeing that a mainstream school was unsuitable.
'I am not happy he has to travel more than an hour every day. They knew in July Mason wasn't going to start until October. Why haven't they sorted out his education until then?
'He has missed out on all of the social making skills of the first day of school but the most heartbreaking thing was when we did all the back to school photos, all of them have Mason crying because he didn't understand why he wasn't going back to school.'
Both families are now at the second stage of a formal complaints procedure.
Their stories follow a cabinet report published last week which highlighted the huge demand on special education needs services in Suffolk, with education chiefs saying a further 300-400 SEN places are needed to meet demand in the next two years.
This follows a new special school in Lowestoft which opened last year and a new school in Ipswich to open in 2020.
A Suffolk County Council spokesperson said: 'The demand for specialist education places in Suffolk is rising rapidly due to the county's population growth, advances in medicine and increasing complexity of special educational needs. The challenges Suffolk is facing mirrors the national picture.
'However, Suffolk County Council's Cabinet this week agreed a recommendation to introduce a new approach to the development of specialist education placements for children and young people between the ages of 5 and 25 in Suffolk.
They added: 'The percentage of children with such needs, without a school place, at any one time is less than 0.2%. We work with each individual family to ensure it responds as quickly as possible to meet the needs of any child without education.
'However in exceptional cases there can be individual circumstances meaning the process can take longer than we would like.'