St Albans parents claim there is no appropriate school for their children with ASD
PUBLISHED: 16:00 07 February 2020
New light has been shed on a number of St Albans children with special needs whose parents have taken them out of school because their parents feel nowhere meets their requirements.
But in many of these cases the pupils are not being officially home-schooled, and they are effectively "off the books".
The county council cannot officially give its blessing in these cases, but some families have told us after they have explained their situation to professionals, they are not fined for keeping their children off school.
St Albans parents Steve and Karen Jackson felt that they were forced to home educate because there was no school that suited the needs of their daughter Niamh. Niamh was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) two years ago. Niamh suffered a breakdown at Bernard's Heath School. For a fortnight, she could not dress or wash, she would injure herself by throwing herself against things and any reminder of school gave her a severe panic attack.
Steve said: "When we did start getting her out and about again there would be a trigger and she would not be able to go out again for several weeks.
"She was - on paper - being home-schooled but in reality she wasn't. This is, of course, not acceptable to us as her parents."
Her parents feel the school encouraged them to take her out in order to relinquish their responsibility and make their attendance figures look better.
Herts County Council vehemently deny that families with special needs children are encouraged to be officially home-schooled or kept at home saying they have a "strong committment to inclusion".
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St Albans mum Donna Sharp has only recently found a suitable school for her son, James. James is on the autistic spectrum and Donna felt she had no choice but to keep him at home for 15 months.
She said: "I was shocked that James was coming home with injuries...that a school for vulnerable children was not able to keep my child safe. There was even a suggestion that I had given him bruises. I had to put a Freedom of Information Act request in to find out the truth - that there had been lots of incidents of him coming to harm."
As a result, James was unofficially home-schooled for 15 months. I am a single mum. Herts County Council should have provided something for him such as a tutor but they did not. My complaint is ongoing."
Donna said she was branded as 'vexacious' by the special needs school and the local authority did not help.
Herts County Council said that they take very seriously the need to support all children with SEND into schools that are appropriate to their needs, and collaborate closely with individual children and parents.
They said that they have recognised, as part of their SEND transformation programme that there is more to do, and "are working hard to increase special school and provision places in Hertfordshire; and also increase the capacity of mainstream schools to meet the needs of children with complex needs".
Head of county integrated services for learning Jennie Newman said: "We welcome the opportunity to have a transparent discussion about this. We are working with headteachers and families and strengthening the system and ensuring the right level of provision."
The county provides support to children and families where medical conditions are the cause of absence through their Educational Service for Medical Absence team.
Operations director for children and young people's services Jo Fisher said: "In Herts and across the country, local authorities are spending more than on special educational needs. We welcome the continued and any further injection of funding for children with special needs."
She added: "We know that we have got more we can do. We recognise that. We are developing special school provision which we are rapidly expanding over the next 12 months."