Mum of boy, 12, with autism pleads with Norfolk school to be flexible on strict behaviour rules

Reece and Charlene O'Rourke. Picture: Charlene O'Rourke

Reece and Charlene O'Rourke. Picture: Charlene O'Rourke - Credit: Archant

The mum of a 12-year-old boy with autism has pleaded with his school to be flexible on its strict new behaviour rules after he was excluded.

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.
Picture: David Hannant

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. Picture: David Hannant - Credit: Archant

Charlene O'Rourke said her son Reece, who has an education, health and care plan (EHCP) laying out his needs, struggles to abide by Great Yarmouth Charter Academy's new policy of maintaining eye contact with staff.

It is one of several strict new rules introduced by the school, which became an academy at the start of August, which also include walking in single file through classrooms and limits on toilet breaks.

Pupils are also told they must always make eye contact with staff and either look at the teacher, or where the teacher directs them to, during lessons.

Reece's mum said he was put into isolation last week for not tracking the teacher and making eye contact - something the Inspiration Trust, which runs the school, disputes - and then again in the following days for other behaviour issues.

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He was later given a five-day exclusion, which lasts until Thursday, for the behaviour issues.

MORE: Parents' outrage after 'army like' schooling at Great Yarmouth academy

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She said she has asked the school to be flexible on behaviour rules to meet her son's needs.

'We are looking for a specialist school place, and I understand that mainstream schools can only follow so much of his EHCP,' she said.

'I'm also not against discipline, I just want to know that until we find the right place he is given the support he needs.

'Not having to make eye contact is a minor adjustment - I'm not asking for much.'

The trust said Reece had not been penalised for not making eye contact, and headmaster Barry Smith said the school worked to find the 'best outcome' for pupils with complex needs.

MORE: Inspiration Trust proposes merging Great Yarmouth Charter Academy and Trafalgar College

'We take support for children with special education needs very seriously, and one of the reasons for our strict approach on behaviour is to ensure we have calm classrooms that allow as many pupils as possible to take part in mainstream lessons with their peers,' he said.

Ambitious About Autism has responded to the school's new rules, which some say do not take into account children with additional needs.

In a statement, they said: 'Autistic people may have particular difficulty with verbal communication as well as the body language required by neurotypical people in our culture, such as making eye contact... It is important to ensure pupils can learn without disruption, but to prevent harmless, non-intrusive fidgeting and stimming is damaging and can affect many pupils' ability to learn.'

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