Suffolk: Boy wins apology on 'school phobia'

SUFFOLK County Council and a secondary school have been ordered to apologise to the parents of a teenager suffering from a 'school phobia' for discriminating against him.

SUFFOLK County Council and a secondary school have been ordered to apologise to the parents of a teenager suffering from a 'school phobia' for discriminating against him.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal found that the county council and the governing body of the east Suffolk secondary school unlawfully discriminated against the boy, now 16, on four separate claims.

The decision follows an unsuccessful prosecution by Suffolk County Council and the school against the boy's parents for failing to ensure their son attended school regularly. The youngster and school involved cannot be named for legal reasons.

The tribunal panel found that the council should have stopped this prosecution against the parents and given consideration to the effect it was having on the boy's mental health.

The panel also warned of a 'degree of mistrust' between Suffolk's medical and educational bodies which affected the case and could potentially, and more harmfully, affect other children in the county who are suffering from a mental illness.

Despite being told that they had until December 1 to apologise, the county council and the school said they were 'disappointed' with the decision and may appeal.

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But the father of the boy, who is a governor at the same school, said he was pleased with the decision.

'We are very pleased with the outcome and very pleased that an external body has come to the same conclusion as we have all along. All the people that we have come across, whether that be barristers, solicitors or doctors, they all said the same thing, that this [prosecution] is wrong and should not be happening.

'The judge and her colleagues listened very carefully and came to the same conclusion that we thought they would, which was that the prosecution should not have happened and if people had been better informed and better trained to understand mental health they would not have kept pushing down the line that they did. The decision means it will benefit other children tremendously in the long run.

'My only want is that my son grows into the person that he would have been by now if it was not for the prosecution. The whole thing has held us all back.'

As a result of the tribunal decision, the chairman of Suffolk County Council, Joanna Spicer, and the chairman of governors at the school must write to each of the parents, as well as the boy, to apologise 'unreserved' for each of the four acts of discrimination against the teenager.

The leadership and senior management teams of the council's Children and Young People's Services department and the Legal Services department have also been told to undertake training on the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The parents should be invited to observe this training, the tribunal panel added.

Suffolk County Council has also been ordered to arrange a meeting between the headteacher of the school and the director of Children and Young People's Services with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to discuss inter-agency working practices for children with mental health problems.

Adrian Orr, a senior adviser at Suffolk's Children and Young People's Services, said: 'Both Suffolk County Council and the governing body of the school have now received the decision of the tribunal and are studying it carefully. We are disappointed by the decision and are currently taking legal advice on whether or not there are grounds for appeal.'

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