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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 20-May-19 15:41:05

Guest post: “My son Freddy was 11 years old when he was first excluded from school”

The government has published its review into school exclusions, an issue that is affecting more and more families, especially those with children with special education needs. Coram’s CEO, Dr Carol Homden writes about her personal experience of exclusion.

Dr Carol Homden

Coram CEO

Posted on: Mon 20-May-19 15:41:05

(37 comments )

Lead photo

Why was there no advocacy, support or practical help when the school could not cope and neither could we?

My son Freddy was 11 years old when he was first excluded from school. Having been diagnosed with autism and learning difficulties, he had been well-supported in a special needs nursery and mainstream primary school with one-to-one learning support. But then came the transition to secondary school and with it, the gaping chasm between the needs of the child and family and the capacity of the school and local authority to act or support.

After just 12 days (only five of which he had been allowed to attend) our vulnerable son, whose needs were already fully documented, was permanently excluded.

Despite the fact that his known food allergies were ignored, exacerbating his behaviour, and that the one-to-one support to which he was entitled had not been provided, our appeal failed.

Following Freddy’s exclusion we were left totally alone to juggle the anxiety and complexities of an autistic child with two full-time jobs and the needs of our younger child. There was no childcare support, no suggestion of an alternative placement, no social work guidance, no advocacy, no counselling or CAMHS support, not even a place in the SEND holiday scheme.

Freddy was struggling to cope with the stress and distress of being excluded and was provided with only three hours a week of tutor time. This left him isolated and did not constitute an education.

For many months, there was only one beacon of light – the local Scouts group who, without any special skills or resources, were able to welcome Freddy. Still today, every time we pass the church hall where they met, Freddy says “Remember the Scouts?” And I do.

Following Freddy's exclusion we were left totally alone to juggle the anxiety and complexities of an autistic child with two full-time jobs and the needs of our younger child.


This act of kindness was in sharp contrast to the sense of abandonment we felt in the midst of the exclusions process which dragged on for months and begs the question: why was there no advocacy, support or practical help when the school could not cope and neither could we?

Seventeen years on, Freddy is settled in supported living with excellent support. However, Coram’s recently published research, Unfair Results: the views and experiences of pupils and parents in education exclusion, has shown that isolation, poor communication and lack of support remains the reality for far too many children and families following school exclusion.

Coram’s report, which contributed to the government review into school exclusions led by Edward Timpson, has found that over 80% of parents of children who were permanently excluded received inadequate support to find an alternative school place for their child.

Alongside this, three-quarters of parents whose child had been temporarily excluded felt that they received insufficient support in preparing for their child’s return to school. Nearly 80% of parents also reported poor communication with the school following exclusion.

Coram’s Legal Practice, one of only two in the country that undertake legal aid work on education issues, has found that all too many of the exclusion cases they deal with relate to children with special educational needs whose education, health and care plans have not been implemented.

Coram sees cases every week where children have spent months and even years out of school before a solution is found. That is why we are calling for local authorities to account for the number of teaching days lost between a permanent exclusion being made and an alternative school place being found.

The Timpson Review on school exclusion is a welcome, wide-ranging, balanced and important review. If implemented, it will help the committed professionals across the system to change the chances for the next generation.

Schools have a duty to all their children and sometimes exclusion may be necessary and appropriate; the recommendations to update the statutory guidance for school leaders and for a concerted effort to improve consistency of good practice are welcome.

But this should go further: young people and parents need to be participants in the process and to have specific guidance with clear timescales as well as access to help and advice, so they can work with authorities and schools to secure the educational future for their child.

While it will take time to address the many recommendations on process, incentives and accountability for the longer term, let us not forget that every day matters in the life of a child. Therefore, we must ensure that parents, carers and children are never again left feeling they have to cope alone and forced to fight for their child’s right to education.

By Dr Carol Homden

Twitter: @Coram

Becles Mon 20-May-19 16:02:46

Schools have a duty to all children, but the consistent feedback from teachers and parents is that a majority of pupils have their education adversely impacted by the lack of resources to adequately support children with SEN.

When putting pressure on schools to hold situations they don't have resources to cope with, who is sparing a thought for the emotional consequences for teachers and other children?

At a time of teacher retention crisis, what is the government doing to improve resourcing other than expecting the teachers with 30 other pupils to cope or act as a babysitting or masking service?

slipperywhensparticus Mon 20-May-19 18:19:07

No one is asking them to babysit but had Freddie had the care they knew he needed and the support they were being given extra funding to provide his story could have been different

Fleetheart Mon 20-May-19 18:29:52

I couldn’t agree more; it’s not right that the teachers, kids and TAs are all left without the resources to cope with the diverse set of needs that our children bring. Schools need to have the tools and the funds. Why don’t they? What do we feel is more valuable?

Ravingstarfish Mon 20-May-19 18:31:20

My son was excluded at 5, has missed 3 school years. Applied to 15 schools and all have said no.
Literally no help or support available, it’s ridiculous

slipperywhensparticus Mon 20-May-19 18:51:09

Schools are funded extra my sons school is however at age 6 I'm supporting the school in getting a plan together to move him to a special school

Cafelatte2go Mon 20-May-19 19:08:00

There should be more specialist schools and support available.

I think there are obviously differing degrees of autism- some will do well in mainstream, some need different strategies and specialist support. Mainstream has its drawbacks too- mixing SEN kids with lower set abilities/ pupils with behavioral problems etc is something I've seen over and over again. Nobody benefits in that situation.

If a child is being constantly excluded then it isn't working for anyone. Its not fair on the other 29 in the class who are also just trying to get an education. It's terrible that money is at the root of all this constantly- children need extra specialist staff, more teachers generally and more special schools. Unfortunately teachers are spread far too thin as it is- this is where things are going wrong, but it's usually wrong to blame them and the school. It's the lack of funding that's causing these problems.

pandafaces Mon 20-May-19 19:34:39

I think the system needs more special educational centres. You say your dc is now under supported living, this would perhaps mean if he’s not going to be a ‘mainstream’ adult then perhaps mainstream school wasn’t right for him. The lack of support though is unacceptable and there did seem to be a huge gap in help for dc like your ds.

I think the government trying to force dc with Sen through mainstream school affects both the Sen dc and the mainstream dc. Such a shame and detrimental to all.

Helix1244 Mon 20-May-19 19:35:48

Hard to comment when it's unclear what happened or why and where he moved onto.
If he went onto a SS it's possible an error was made when primary decided he could move to mainstream secondary.
I would assume it was a violent incident. Which i would think the school should have then had a better transition process as asd children struggle with stress and transition.
Awful that it could go so wrong and the child effectively blamed.

I see where op is coming from because i completely see that certain foods affect children's behaviour.
In fact at a party i saw 3 children getting upset after squash (my own dc goes really crazy with squash and becomes naughty after strawberries - she draws on the walls!)

Also that soon into the school the nerves, lack of sleep etc wouldnt have settled down.
Possibly suing LA for failing in their duty of care?

fikel Mon 20-May-19 19:55:25

I do think the support should be given in specialised schools, with specialised teachers, in an environment that understands that is best suited for their learning. I just don’t think large secondary schools, with everything that encompasses are the right fit

gubbsywubbsy Mon 20-May-19 20:09:04

Why did you go for ms secondary ? I say that as a mother of s child with sn ? We did 3 years at ms but transferred to a sn school which is perfect for him.. we looked at about 50 schools and were prepared to move if necessary ( or have a lengthy fight with the LA.

FrameyMcFrame Mon 20-May-19 20:45:08

Thanks for sharing your experience.

QueenofCBA Mon 20-May-19 20:54:30

I am so sorry that you had to go through this, but I am afraid that your experience is a grim but true reflection of school provision today. It is not possible for a teacher with minimal training to adequately meet the wildly different needs of 32 children in a class, even if they want to.
Most teachers really want to do right by every child, but we are not able to in the current system and nobody is listening to us, hence teachers leaving the profession in droves.

Bonkerz Mon 20-May-19 21:49:37

My own son was permanently excluded from his first school age 6 and then the second primary school couldn't cope with him and sent him to a local pupil referral unit. He was there for 18 months.
In this time we got a diagnosis of autism and managed to fight to get a statement. Despite all this the council didn't see any urgency in finding my son a school.
I ended up writing to 152 schools within a 20 mile radius and asked then if they could provide my son with a safe place to learn. 56 of those school replied to me with a flat NO. The rest didn't even acknowledge my letter.
Eventually after 2 years we took the council to tribunal and won a place at the local priory private autistic school which had been denied to us previously.
It's not been easy but DS is 19 in July, has a good job and is sitting his a levels at the moment. He drives and is generally independent although still needs a lot of support in the background.

Teachermaths Mon 20-May-19 22:00:24

What @becles said.

The school are clearly at fault with their lack of support regarding 1-1. However mainstream isn't the answer for all students. There should be more autism and asd specialist schools. Like a pp said, students who end up in supported living aren't "mainstream" adults. These students probably don't need a special school (which are increasingly full with students with severe physical disabilities), instead a smaller school with smaller classes and more TAs would be ideal. The same curriculum would be covered as mainstream, just on a smaller scale and provide better for pupils. Unfortunately the government doesn't want to fund this.

alwaystimeforcakeandtea Mon 20-May-19 23:57:10

Teachermaths you speak sense. I am a teacher and also think that there is a gap in school provision between mainstream and special. It should not be so damn hard for schools and parents to get the right support for pupils with SEND. Mainstream is sometimes suitable but so often not.

PickAChew Tue 21-May-19 00:01:30

Mainstream isn't the answer for many of these kids but try finding a special school placement for a child without learning disability in many areas of England and you will come up against a total brick wall. My eldest travels 50 miles each way to a specialist non-maintained school.

ClarkeMurphy Tue 21-May-19 00:03:10

Despite the fact that his known food allergies were ignored, exacerbating his behaviour, and that the one-to-one support to which he was entitled had not been provided, our appeal failed.

This is awful. Allergies are not taken nearly seriously enough unless they are life threatening. And specified one-to-one support should always be allocated if required. It isn't okay to exclude children if their acknowledged medical needs (physical and mental) aren't being met.

Issues of funding, special schools, etc are important in the wider debate. But the least we can do is accept that this child was comprehensively failed by the system.

Grasspigeons Tue 21-May-19 09:07:55

Thanks for this post. It reflect the story of many, many children with autism. The system isn't fit for purpose. It is slow, complicated to understand, underfunded and difficult to enforce. Child after child finds themselves missing 1 or 2 years education whilst people wrangle over who should support them and where.

Mainstream can work for many children with the right support. This support should be funded well and in a timely manner. No child should face the school day having their allergy ignored and the 1:1 they need not in place. Schools vary hugely in their willingness and ability to support children and this needs to change, but its incredibly easy to get away with not doing a good enough job.

As for special schools - there is a real problem with children of at least average academic ability but needing specialist provision for sensory/communication/processing issues. Its basically doesn't exist.

calpoppincalpol Tue 21-May-19 09:50:19

Is this an advert??

calpoppincalpol Tue 21-May-19 09:54:44

Schools are there to educate kids and not to be abused( physically, verbally etc) on a daily basis. They are not babysitters. Teachers are over worked, under paid and stressed out especially at secondary level. I still remember my secondary days and it was brutal for teachers.
They have 30+ horomonal teens in one room and so yeah, they have to deal with bad behaviour and abuse. Seems to be the only job where it is expected to be tolerated.
Also, one child's bad behaviour affects all be other children's learning , exam results and teachers targets. So yeah . Even though a child has sn ( my own does by the way) it's no excuse for impacting on the classroom as a whole.

Grasspigeons Tue 21-May-19 11:06:12

calpoppincalpol - schools are there to educate all children not just the cheap ones.

No child should have a legal document outlining what is needed for them to access education and then face school without those measures in place.

I agree noone should have to put up with challenging behaviour in their classroom. A significant amount of challenging behaviour from childen with SN can be prevented by giving them the support they need. Funding needs to reflect thid.

If that cant be provided mainstream it shouldnt be the norm to let the children struggle until they break and become disruptive, exclude them, then miss years of schooling with no support for the family because there arent enough special schools. It should be the norm to recognise that and swiftly transition them to a place that can deal with their needs.

JanMeyer Tue 21-May-19 11:36:23

You say your dc is now under supported living, this would perhaps mean if he’s not going to be a ‘mainstream’ adult then perhaps mainstream school wasn’t right for him.

That's quite an assumption there, just because a person needs supported living doesn't mean a mainstream school isn't (or wasn't) the right choice for them. In most places in the UK if you have an autistic child who doesn't have a learning disability (or one who does but is not deemed "bad enough" for special school) then making the best of it in mainstream is pretty much the only option available unless you can homeschool.

You're conflating two different things I think. To put things into perspective I have a learning disabled sibling who would have been eaten alive in a mainstream secondary school.
Thankfully they went to the local special school before moving on to college. They now have a full time job and are in the process of preparing to move out. Point is, don't make assumptions or sweeping generalisations. A child not being suitable for mainstream school doesn't equate to an adult that will end up in supported living. They needed the time and space to mature and take their own path, something mainstream couldn't have offered.

One thing people don't seem to realise is that parents often don't want their autistic kids in a mainstream setting. People seem to think there's an abundance of special school places available for kids with every different condition. You see it on here all the time, the first mention of challenging behaviour and the "he should be in a special school" brigade appear en masse. Most people seem to be blissfully unaware of how difficult it can be to get a special school place, or how bad things have to get one.
I'll never understand why the special needs system in the UK is predicated on "lets see how bad things have to get before we provide the appropriate support/school place."
Meanwhile what about the autistic kids left to flounder and fall apart in an environment unsuited to them?
Maybe there'd be less autistic kids with mental health problems if this wasn't the case.

Allington Tue 21-May-19 12:01:40

Yes, I wish I could say I was surprised by how many posters rush to the defense of teachers, when nowhere does the OP say it was the fault of any individual teacher or school, only that it was beyond 'the capacity of the school and local authority to act or support'.

Nor does the OP claim that her child should have been left in a position where he was disrupting the education of other children, so I don't know why anyone feels it necessary to say that is shouldn't be allowed.

We don't have the full information, but it sounds as if he managed in MS primary school with one-to-one support, then he moved to MS secondary (with its additional stresses) he was not provided with one-to-one support even though he should have been.

And then was not provided with a suitable place (ANY place) at ANY school, MS or SS.

Every child is entitled to an education. Unfortunately, this is often denied to the most vulnerable and in need of support. I wish those who are most vocal about the rights of the rest of the class (which no-one disputes) would be as vocal about the need for better specialist support and provision.

Obviously that does not apply to anyone reading this who IS as active in promoting improved SN provision as much as not allowing MS provision to be disrupted...

PickAChew Tue 21-May-19 12:53:58

Hmm. My boys with asd go to school to be educated, too. They are out of mainstream but many kids with asd do behave perfectly well, so long as they have the support they need. If their needs are ignored and they are left to flounder, that's when they become overwhelmed and run out, lose concentration, start stimming, become distressed and agitated, hide under the table, or whatever their go to response is.

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