‘My hair was falling out’: mum’s three-year fight for son’s school place
PUBLISHED: 05:30 26 August 2020
A Norwich mother has been left distraught after fighting for three years to get a special educational needs (SEN) school place for her son.
Ingrid Henry, from Eaton, said problems began when she had to pay for a private diagnosis for her son, Kann Torunogullari, due to an 18-month waiting list.
Kann, now 11, was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, hypermobility and dyslexia.
Ms Henry, the co-owner of Earlham Park Café, applied for an education, health and care plan (EHCP) - which took more than two-and-a-half years to complete.
This year, data from the Department of Education ranked Norfolk the 11th worst local authority in the country at completing EHCPs within the government’s target time of 20 weeks.
Ms Henry, 50, said: “We were even told by one school that the EHCP was completely useless and so badly done we wouldn’t be able to get a place at any SEN school. It was a real battle to get it all up to standard.”
After eventually finalising the EHCP last year, Ms Henry was told to view and select preferred SEN schools for her son.
But in February, Norfolk County Council rejected her choices and offered a mainstream school.
Ms Henry said: “It was absolutely horrendous and we were in bits. I understand there is a huge demand for places, but why tell parents they can select schools only to offer something completely unsuitable?”
In Norfolk, demand for places in SEN schools has surged by 170pc over the last three years prompting the council to invest £120m in new specialist places.
After rejecting the offer of the mainstream school, Ms Henry was given a place at a SEN school but had concerns due to a poor Ofsted rating.
She said: “I had visited that school five times and I knew it was not the place for my son. The Ofsted rating also said it required improvement to be good.”
Ms Henry decided to reject the offer but was not given an alternative by the council.
She said: “At one point my own hair was falling out. The stress and anxiety we’ve felt as a family has been extreme.
“Kann was traumatised as he knew he didn’t have a school to go to. And as a mother, it was soul-destroying. I have spent years working on getting him a school place and in the end got nothing. It ripped my heart out.”
In June, a tribunal was held after Ms Henry appealed the decision. A judge ruled inconclusive and a further tribunal is set to take place in September.
In the meantime, Ms Henry has agreed to send her son to the SEN school offered by the council as she did not want him to go without education.
She said: “I’ve said to them it is just while they find a place at a better school. I will not stop fighting for my child.”
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said they were unable to comment on the specifics of this case as it was subject to legal proceedings.
He added: ”Parents do have the right, within the legislation for EHCPs, to request a particular school or setting to be named in their child’s EHCP and, wherever possible we will endeavour to secure that school.”
“However, this is not always possible particularly where the school of choice cannot meet the needs of the child or where demand for places outstrips supply.”
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The council also have an emphasis on promoting inclusion in mainstream schools to meet the needs of SEND children, Mr Fisher said.
He added: ”Evidence shows us that children with EHCPs who attend mainstream schools have better outcomes than those who attend special schools, and enjoy greater opportunities in adult life.
“These are national challenges and we are eagerly waiting the outcomes of the National Review into the SEND Reforms commissioned by the Department of Education.”
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