Norfolk council refuses a place in a special school for a SEND girl

Published:
06:30 July 4, 2022



A mother has shared her anguish over Norfolk County Council’s refusal to provide a special school placement for her disabled daughter.

Dr Fiona Wilkes, whose daughter Eva suffers from a rare neurological condition, said the council gave her ‘no warning’ about the ‘chronic’ shortage of local places after age 16 for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The mother said sending Eva to a mainstream school, as the county council is currently proposing, would be “completely inappropriate”.

Ordinary placement would include SEND support, but a school psychologist, commissioned by Eva’s current school, said a specialist placement was necessary to meet Eva’s needs.

Eva, who attends Parkside Special School in Norwich, suffers from an extremely rare and complex condition known as DCX Sub Cortical Laminar Band Heterotopia (SBH).

This means she has a range of complex needs with her motor skills, speech and language, learning and cognition, emotional development and daily living skills – as well as associated problems such as seizures, sensory processing difficulties and being on the autism spectrum.


Eva Wilkes Lamb
– Credit: Submitted

Parkside School said its own post-16 offering would not be suitable for Eva’s complex needs.

The county council, however, has twice refused to offer him a placement in the special school chosen by his family for his post-16 education – Hall School in Catton – and the decision will be submitted to a third panel organized by the council on Wednesday, July 6. .

Glass artist and educator Dr. Wilkes is already preparing for a nationally organized independent tribunal to be held in the event of a third rejection at this panel meeting.

But the court process – which will consider whether the council is right or wrong to insist Eva attends a mainstream school – could take up to six months to reach a result, meaning the 16-year-old can be without specialized placement. until Christmas.

In 2020-21 across the UK, “SENDIST” courts, of the type triggered for Eva, upheld local council decisions in just 168 of 4,825 hearings – a success rate of just 3.6% for tips.

Dr Wilkes said the lack of certainty about which school his daughter will go to has affected his child’s level of anxiety and his ability to learn effectively.

“She doesn’t know who she’s going to be with, she doesn’t know where she’s going to be. It’s awful,” she said, adding that she knew other children at the school were in similar positions.

“It’s an incredibly vulnerable stage in their life and the trauma associated with not knowing where you’re going, when you have additional needs, shouldn’t be underestimated,” she said.


Norfolk County Council at County Hall in Norwich

County Hall in Norwich – seat of Norfolk County Council
– Credit: Archant

She added that if the court rules in favor of the county council, the family would be forced to go through the upheaval of having to move to London, where there is a wider range of school options.

In a letter to Eva’s Education Co-ordinator at County Council, Parkside School Deputy Principal John Habershon said: ‘We are concerned that unsuitable placement will not only undo much of the foundational work that we have managed to accomplish more recently, but also have a detrimental effect on Eva’s mental health.”

A number of other children at the school – and throughout the county – are said to be in similar situations.

Pat Brickley, who chairs the Norfolk SEN Network, said the number of SENDIST courts had increased since the pandemic for children of all age groups.


Norfolk SEN Network.  Pat Brickley (Chair).  Photo: ANTONY KELLY

Pat Brickley, Norfolk SEN Network President
– Credit: Archant

“We have three [children] who don’t have a high school placement in September,” she said.

“The local authority should have sorted them out by now. These children are all [on the] autism spectrum. They’re anxious enough as it is, let alone don’t know where they’re going.

“What’s happening right now is the courts are coming in for October, November, for the secondary placements. These children will be out of school [for] full tenure…

“The courts are horrible. We have so many, we just go from one to another.

Commenting on the situation in his Norwich South constituency, MP Clive Lewis said: “For at least a decade now, since the austerity bill was put in place, local councils have been forced to ration the services they provide .


Question Time event at Notre Dame High School, Norwich.MP Clive Lewis.Picture: Nick Butcher

Clive Lewis, Labor MP for Norwich South
– Credit: Nick Butcher

“These parents are increasingly feeling the effects. Ultimately, the responsibility stops somewhere.

“In this case, in Norfolk, it stops at Conservative politicians, who are members of the party that runs government, who will not provide the resources to ensure these children can get the services they need.”

Tory Councilor Daniel Elmer, who is deputy cabinet member for children’s services at the county council, said: ‘When a candidate’s first choice of venue is not possible because the school has already optimal number of children, a second choice will be offered.


Norfolk County Councilor Daniel Elmer.  Photo: Norfolk County Council

Conservative County Councilor Daniel Elmer, who is an assistant cabinet member for children’s services
– Credit: Norfolk County Council

“Where this is not acceptable to young people and their parents, we will always work with them to do our best to find an alternative that meets their needs and preferences.

“We are committed to working with families to help young people with SEND find further training, apprenticeships, internships and employment as they prepare for adult life and to ensure that there are enough suitable places after age 16 available in both specialist colleges and mainstream colleges with SEN Assistance.

The council added that it was developing a SEND sufficiency plan after 16 years to meet the current and future needs of young people with SEND.

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