Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Disabled boy being denied education due to cuts

A MOTHER whose disabled son can’t cope with mainstream education is appealing for the authorities to reinstate the

A MOTHER whose disabled son can’t cope with mainstream education is appealing for the authorities to reinstate the support he used to receive at home.

Jamie Clarke, 13, from Goring Heath, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, when he was seven after repeatedly fleeing from school.

He is now enrolled at Langtree School in Woodcote but has barely attended in two years because it makes him so anxious.

His condition makes it hard for him to understand people’s intentions or interpret body language so he becomes stressed in groups of other children and can feel overwhelmed.

He also needs his life to be predictable and becomes very upset if he cannot have a strict routine.

The disorder is neurological and cannot be cured but, depending on the severity, some sufferers can learn to cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Psychologists have confirmed Jamie is too unwell to attend school and he was receiving weekly visits by a teacher and a social worker but the former has retired and the latter has been withdrawn by Oxfordshire County Council.

His mother Cathy said: “It’s a disaster because Jamie will have no support measures in place when term starts again.”

Mrs Clarke and her partner Christian Whitton have both given up work to care for Jamie after struggling for years to keep him in regular education.

Until 2013 they lived in Oxford with Jamie and his sisters Chloe, 16, Millie, 17, and Poppy, 19.

Jamie attended three of the city’s primary schools but two of these treated his behaviour as a disciplinary problem and wouldn’t devise a plan to manage it.

His family claim that on one occasion, he handed in a piece of work with messy handwriting, which can be a problem with Asperger’s due to poor co-ordination, and the teacher tore it up in front of him.

Jamie escaped from school unnoticed several times, including once when he hid in a commercial waste bin.

He fared better at the third school, which made allowances for his condition, and then the situation improved further about a year after the family moved to Goring Heath when the county council began sending the social worker to his house to help develop his communication skills.

She would take Jamie shopping, encouraging him to interact with shop staff and pay for goods, and taught him ways of coping with anxiety.

Earlier this year, his school started sending a teaching assistant to his home once a week to give him  lessons. The pair struck up a rapport and Jamie showed signs of progress in maths and English.

However, the social worker has been stopped by the council, which is trying to save £292million by 2018 through cuts to public services including social care.

The teaching assistant may be replaced but even if this happens, Mrs Clarke fears Jamie might struggle to bond with a new face.

At the same time, Langtree says he cannot remain on its register because he never comes to school and he should be referred to a special school.

The council has suggested a specialist unit in Abingdon but this is for children with behavioural problems and Jamie’s mother fears he would be bullied there.

The family applied for a “personal budget”, a grant from the council for people with care needs, but were told they were not eligible.

Mrs Clarke said: “I was hoping for a smooth transition to Langtree but he wouldn’t go back after the first couple of days. He really wants to go but he physically can’t. It’s all too much and overloads his senses.

“When he was diagnosed I thought our problems were over and we’d get access to the help and services we needed. Sadly, it’s still a massive struggle after all these years.

“The staff at Langtree have some understanding of his condition. He attended the school’s learning support centre during break time for a while but he’d get nervous because the other children were playing outside.

“It reached the stage where he refused to go and we couldn’t persuade him. We tried just driving him past the school to warm him up but even that made him upset.”

When the teaching assistant’s visits proved effective, the couple agreed to pay £12.50 towards each half-hour session and say they are willing to continue doing this.

They are also considering paying the social worker £50 an hour to return on a private basis.

However, they say they will struggle to find the money and Mrs Clarke has been diagnosed with clinical depression because of the stress of the situation.

Mr Whitton used to work as a carer for the elderly but had to quit because Jamie has destructive outbursts and must be carefully restrained, which his mother cannot manage.

Mrs Clarke said: “Even if he gets a new teaching assistant it will take time to rebuild a relationship.

“We were very lucky that he bonded with the last one quickly but it could take months.

“The communication worker was probably the first person we’d met who could understand his needs. Jamie had a lot of trust in her because of all the time they spent together.

“I was really angry when she was taken away and Jamie was utterly devastated. I remember him saying ‘no one cares about me’.

“We’re doing all we can to get her back but the council seems to push you from pillar to post.

“One staff member told me they were too busy to even reply to emails at the moment.” Mr Whitton said: “All of this is holding Jamie back from achieving his full potential. He’s more than capable of engaging with teaching but it has to be properly structured.

“As a family, our biggest fear is that so many years have been wasted and he still has no education.

“We’re afraid that when he’s 17 or 18, the education authorities will just wash their hands of him and he’ll be pushed into the adult world without the skills to get by.

“He has been let down on so many levels and we feel we have no choice but to pay for his communication worker, though it’ll be touch and go finding the money.

“Being unable to work puts a huge strain on our resources but we have to do what’s best for Jamie.

“It’s so hard finding anyone within the system who understands your situation and will fight your corner.

“For the most part it feels like they’re ignoring us — Jamie isn’t going to school so he’s out of sight and out of mind.”

Mrs Clarke added: “I know Jamie and his needs better than anyone else but my voice is being ignored. He has fallen through every hole in the safety net that’s supposed to be there for people like him.”

Oxfordshire County Council said it wouldn’t comment on specific cases but said pupils with severe health problems could use its “hospital school” outreach programme to learn the curriculum at home.

Mrs Clarke says Jamie has tried this but it was too advanced for his level of education.

A council spokesman said: “There is a range of services that the school and family can draw on to help.

“These should be kept under review to ensure that the re-integration plan for a return to school continues to progress and that decisions are made in the best interests of the child.

“Some support can be provided by central special educational needs services on a temporary basis.”

Langtree School said it couldn’t comment on grounds of confidentiality.

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