Unlawful discrimination isn’t something any child should suffer; especially an 8/9 year old child in year four in a Catholic primary school in West London but this is exactly what has happened to our son. Ross was diagnosed as having Aspergers Syndrome in late 2008, when he was six. He had presented totally differently to his older brother who also has a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome and my husband and I found it difficult to accept he had AS – now however we have no doubt of his diagnosis and have fully accepted it as part of who he is.
From the time Ross started in reception in 2006 we had problems, issues that we couldn’t understand and never quite got to the bottom of. Year one was a total nightmare and Ross, aged just five years old received his first exclusion. We worked with the school to help Ross as much as we possible could. At the same time as we were going through the diagnostic and Statementing process for Ross we were trying to help his older brother to come to terms with the fact that he needed to move to a special school…not an easy period in our lives but not our most stressful.
Year two and three were relatively good years for Ross, he had excellent classroom support and was able to take part in all activities. However in the last week of year three his LSA (Learning Support Assistant) resigned and Ross was devastated. He returned to school last September to a new LSA and a new teacher, an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher). Although both were in place in September they were not given essential training until November, this meant they did not have a clear understanding of Autism and from day one things just went wrong, Ross wasn’t settling and was in trouble on an almost daily basis. The schools had also introduced a new behavior policy but failed to notify us parents, they were not making the necessary “reasonable adjustments” to this policy for Ross’s disability.
Ross was excluded before the end of September. I felt that this was not fair and that Ross disability or the fact that he had not settled back into school was not been taken into consideration when this decision was made. So I wrote to the Head Teacher, he replied but would not reconsider his decision so I wrote to the Chair of Governors and the SEN Governor. The Chair of Governors did reply but also claimed that reasonable adjustments had been made. I didn’t agree but worked with the school and various outside agencies to try and improve things for Ross.
Ross was excluded again in October, November and December. His exclusion in December meant that he missed all the fun of Christmas, Santa’s visit, the class party and Christmas dinner. All of which he was really looking forward to, as any eight year old child would.
In January we felt that the tone of contact from the school changed and we were growing increasingly concerned about Ross and the many exclusions he was suffering. So I contacted CEPPS (Continyou). I made an appointment and brought along all the paperwork I had gathered since September. After discussing the situation and reviewing the documentation they felt that this was a case of disability discrimination and advised me to call IPSEA for legal advice.
My husband and I discussed it and we agreed that we would call IPSEA. I spoke to a very helpful person; she took my details and advised me that she would pass them to the legal team to review. After a few days I got an email to confirm that a member of the legal team would contact me.
Sean (Kennedy) from IPSEA called me and explained what our options were and after answering a series of questions he confirmed that he felt the school had a case to answer. He explained what this would mean and asked us to consider making a claim to the SEND Tribunal. We discussed it and following yet another exclusion we felt that we really had no option but to go ahead, we had tried talking to the head teacher, chair of Governors, various outside agencies had tried to help but nothing had worked so we decided to go ahead with the Tribunal. This was not an easy decision as we knew it would certainly result in Ross having to change schools but we felt we had no alternative. It was not about point scoring, we believed that Ross was not being treated fairly and that he deserved justice.
Sean helped me to prepare the documents for Tribunal and I posted them off. Before we received a reply Ross was excluded two more times. We were even more concerned than before as Ross was now reluctant to go to school. His behavior was more challenging and the extra pressure on all of us at home was dreadful. In February we asked for an early annual review with a view to requesting a change of placement.
On the 12th of March we received our first letter from the SEND Tribunal confirming that they had registered our claim. While we were really pleased that out claim had been registered we knew that the school would also have received theirs! Funnily enough the exclusions stopped but as you can imagine relations with the school were not at all good.
Upon reading the schools response to our claim I was devastated – I don’t really know what I was expecting but this document made very difficult reading and for a little while I lost my focus. We decided to make the Tribunal aware of the further exclusions Ross had suffered so made a second claim. This too was registered and it was agreed that both claims would be consolidated and heard on the 1st of September.
Unfortunately the exclusions recommenced and by the time Ross finished school at the end of July he had been excluded ten times, missing 31 days of school!
Our IPSEA rep Sean guided us as to what documentation needed to be sent to Tribunal. We spent many, many hours preparing for Tribunal, preparing requests, writing statements and reading through the bundle of paperwork, which was over 1500 pages. Finally on August 31st we received confirmation from Tribunal that the Responsible Body was to be barred from attending the hearing, this was because they had consistently failed to comply with Tribunal orders.
On the 1st of September we went to the Tribunal hearing and put across our case, the panel sat there shaking their heads at the evidence before them and reached a decision of that “the Governors of the school had unlawful discriminated against Ross in respect of his education and associated services by failing to take reasonable steps to avoid placing him at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with pupils who were not disabled”
This was indeed justice for Ross and proof that we were right and justified in our action. We started out on this journey with no real idea of what we were doing or where we were going but with Sean’s help we had achieved so much for Ross.
Ross is now at a different mainstream school and he is a different child; he is happy to go to school and his fragile self-esteem is starting to repair. I can’t describe just how different the whole school experience is now for Ross and how different the atmosphere is at home. This was not an easy exercise but the positive outcome has helped us all and given us confidence for the future.