The parents of a boy with autism who faces being sent to a residential school 50 miles away from his home, are campaigning for his local school to get funding for additional resources to meet his needs.
Chris Lunn, from Snodland in Kent, explained that the special needs school his 12-year-old son William currently attends felt they could no longer meet William’s needs and asked for him to be transferred to a school in Broadstairs aimed at children with additional needs. However, it is 50 miles away from the family’s home and so would be a residential placement, with William staying there during the week.
“We don’t want William to leave home at 12 years old just because he is autistic,” Lunn told HuffPost UK. “This residential school is likely to increase his anxiety as he will be away from the only people he knows.”
A Kent County Council spokesman said decisions to place children in new schools were “not taken lightly” and would not be suggested unless all other available options had already been explored.
The family have appealed the council’s decision and have a tribunal date booked in for October. Their aim is to try to persuade the council to use the funding that would be used to send William to the residential school, to provide additional resource at his current school instead.
“William is our son and we believe the right place for him is with his family,” the dad continued. “He is autistic and that makes him more vulnerable. He is not able to speak for himself and relies on his family to look out for him - as soon as one of us leaves the room he asks where we are.
“The world is a confusing place for William. It will be devastating for him to be separated from us.”
Commenting on William’s situation, Tim Nicholls, policy manager at the National Autistic Society (NAS) acknowledged that many parents whose children have autism face “long and exhausting battles to get support” close to home.
“Every family and child has the right to expect they will get the education and support they need close to home,” he said. “Too many autistic children and parents face long and exhausting battles to get this support. Children can end up out of school for months or even years, losing the chance to learn basic skills and becoming isolated from their peers. This can affect their life for years to come.”
The world is a confusing place for William. It will be devastating for him to be separated from us." Dad Chris Lunn
Kent County Council sent the following statement: “We will always seek to place children in schools within their local communities wherever possible. However, in a small number of cases, we are unable to do this. We feel for children or young people, and their families, who find themselves in this situation. We understand this is a difficult time for them, however, we must ensure every child is educated in a school that is appropriate for their needs, in terms of specialist provision and staffing. In some cases this means a residential placement is required.
“We don’t take decisions such as these lightly and we would not move a child into a residential setting without first exploring all other available options, including funding additional support at their current setting. Along with the school we will fully involve the child or young person’s family in discussions about their educational provision.
“We will always try to resolve cases with families via our own informal disagreement resolution processes. However, should the family still be unhappy they may be able to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDT), which will make the final decision about the educational placement.”
The National Autistic Society is calling on the government to develop a national autism and education strategy, to set out clear expectations for every area of the country.
“Every local council should collect data on the number and needs of children on the autism spectrum in their area and use this to plan and commission school places, family support and social care services,” Nicholls said.
For more information:
The National Autistic Society’s (NAS) Education Rights Service provides confidential information and support to families on school education rights and entitlements. Find out more here.