A Bristol mum claims the city council has ‘failed’ her autistic son after waiting months to secure a SEND placement.
Syndi Sheppard, 38, said she has been battling for several months to secure specialist care for her 13-year-old son who has severe learning difficulties.
Aware of the difficulties getting a SEND placement for her son in Bristol, the mum claims the local authority informed her that by either Christmas or March this year, there would be a placement.
Bristol City Council said that its plan for increasing short term placements has been ‘hard hit’ by COVID-19 but it is putting in place an improved system of support for children and young people in need of a specialist placement.
Syndi said: “Around Christmas it became apparent that there was no provision – Bristol local authorities are failing my son by refusing to provide an education for him.”
Ms Sheppard added there was interest from an independent school that could accommodate her son but after an assessment, they were unable to meet his needs because his learning difficulties were too severe for their current cohort.
“It wouldn’t be fair on him or his peers because his development age is that of a five year old,” she said.
The mother claims the local authority said it would put a bespoke educational package for her son however, it would be for children who were disengaged in secondary school.
After refusing this, she was informed that she would need to find a private tutor herself and go through the process of direct payments.
A spokesperson from Bristol City Council said: “Our plan for increasing short term placements has been hard hit by COVID-19 and it is taking longer to open new provision, so we are putting in place an improved system of support for children and young people who have been identified as being in need of a specialist placement.
“This includes enhanced modifications within their mainstream setting, provision of specialist equipment and access to advice from specialist school staff and external agencies. We have also set up a new panel to oversee the process of matching children and young people to specialist placements as they become available.
“Last year Cabinet approved the SEND Sufficiency and Capital programme which will invest over £28m in Bristol’s special schools, and result in major improvements to current special schools, as well as significantly increasing the number of specialist places available for students with SEND.”
Ms Sheppard, who now lives in Bedminster, said during lockdown it was difficult to get her son to engage so she did not think this would be a suitable option either.
She said: “My son wouldn’t have any peers with his own mental age to communicate with – he would just be stuck at home and it’s up to the local authority to provide him with a tutor.”
After being told that nothing more could be done by the local authority, her son was eventually accepted at a special provision at New Fosseway School in South Bristol in March and he would begin his transition from June until September.
When she asked the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator at the school why her son could not be taken on sooner, she was told it was because they were oversubscribed and the pandemic. However, they explained that with council funding they could take her son on next year.
“I was told at Easter that my son would be going two to three mornings a week for the final two terms, a slow transition – but he was only able to go for two hours after Easter and that was it,” she said.
Ms Sheppard said since moving from Leicester last November she had hoped to start her job which was kept open for her until February.
However, after finding out on Monday (June 7) that her son is only allowed to have three one-hour sessions until September at New Fosseway School, she is left wondering if she will ever return to work again.
“It’s not the school’s fault because they told me they were only able to take on my son from September – the school’s SENCO made that clear; however, the local authority did not.
“I have contacted the education welfare and social services and no one wants to help because my son is not at risk or neglected,” she said.
“It’s my son’s right to be provided with a suitable education and it’s the local authorities duty of care to do that for him.
“He’s 13 with a year 1 foundation level of education and he has not been in school since October,” she said.
Ms Sheppard said the ordeal has left her unemployed which has caused hardship due to her son not being provided a suitable school placement by local authorities.
According the council Briarwood School, Kingsweston School and New Fosseway School are maintained specialist schools, within Bristol city, that are able to meet the needs of learners with severe and profound learning difficulties, as well as learners with Autism Spectrum Condition.
Claremont School is able to meet the needs of learners with physical disabilities and a range of additional and/or associated learning needs including learners with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties. In addition, Bristol City has specialist academy schools able to meet the needs of learners with Autism Spectrum Condition.
The Local Authority can support suitable arrangements for learners with EHCP’s choosing to Educate Other than at School and for learners, without an EHCP, in specific circumstances.