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Empowering People, Launching lives

Fighting to get the right placement for your child


Author: Alice Boddy, Community Engagement Officer

Contributor:

28th March 2022 | 1 min read

18% of parents[1] to children with autism have to go to tribunal to secure the right support for their child. We spoke to Alison, a BeyondAutism parent, about her fight to secure educational provision for her son, Elliott.

With Elliott set to finish at mainstream nursery school in 2019, his family set about finding the right educational environment to help him thrive. He was diagnosed with autism aged three and had an EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan) in place, so finding the right placement to support his development was a key priority for the family. Alison spent a long time visiting every specialist school across five London boroughs. Despite Alison’s best efforts to find the right school placement for her son, they were disappointed with the school that was eventually named for Elliott. This experience is too often the norm. 63% of parents of autistic children believe their child is not in the best kind of school to support them[2].

“That’s when the whole tribunal process began.” Alison had never expected it to reach this stage. Determined to secure the right support for Elliott, the family began the tribunal process. This started in February 2020 and would continue for 8 months. Throughout this time, Elliott was out of education and his parents had to rely on grandparents for childcare in the midst of a global pandemic. With the family self-funding their legal challenge, she describes the process as “emotionally draining, financially draining and very stressful”. Every night after work was spent collecting evidence, annotating documents, and preparing to advocate for her son.

That’s when the whole tribunal process began

“I literally was eating and sleeping this tribunal”

During the tribunal process, witnesses were presented to argue which school would be best for Elliott. Alison described her frustration at having professionals arguing what was in her sons’ best interests, despite never meeting him before. She stressed the importance of staying resilient throughout this time.

“You have to be really resilient; nobody knows your child better than you do.”

The process deeply shook Alison’s faith in the system, leaving her disillusioned. Alongside money spent on legal fees, the family were forced to spend their savings on an ABA Tutor so Elliott didn’t fall behind during his months without schooling – money that could have gone towards supporting Elliott in other ways.

Fortunately, Alison’s determination paid off and the family successfully won their legal battle at the end of September. However, the timing meant Elliott couldn’t start at Park House at the Beginning of the term:

“Luckily it was suggested by Park House and it’s outreach team. Lovely Marta and Matt came to our house [for] a few hours a month or a couple [of] times a week from October to December. And that was brilliant, that really helped.”

In January 2021, the moment Alison had been waiting over a year for finally happened. Elliott officially started at Park House Primary School. “It was just such an exciting feeling seeing him in his uniform and walk in the doors of the school”. Having Elliott in the right educational environment has enabled him to thrive. Elliott communicates without words, but Alison explains you don’t need words to see how happy he is. “He’s tapping his feet and get[s] really excited when he sees his school jumper hanging up.”

It was a huge fight for the family, but they have no regrets in taking on the challenge:

“You must be brave when it comes to a huge daunting system. It’s a huge, huge fight to take on. You’ve got to be brave in it because it’s about your children’s future and life chances”

If you would like support in finding a placement, or appealing an SEN decision there are plenty of resources to get you started. Our autism directory contains over 900 services, including SEN schools, in and around London. It can be a great starting point when searching for a school.

If you need to appeal a decision, read our tribunals and appeals guide or visit SOS!SEN for free advice and information, including a designated helpline. The Citizens Advice Bureau can also offer free advice on your child’s educational rights.

Back to World Autism Acceptance Week.

[1] Reid et al, 2011 – We’ve Got Great Expectations, The National Autistic Society

[2] Ibid

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