Complaint over school changes

A CHARITY has made an official complaint over the way children with autism have been treated by the education authority.

The Harrogate branch of the National Autistic Society (NAS) said at least five children have been transferred away from Hookstone Primary School because of changes made by North Yorkshire County Council.

The council said the school was to become an Enhanced Mainstream School (EMS) from the beginning of the new term, but the NAS argued it has been operating as that since last September. And it said the result is a severe impact on some of the children previously supported by the autism unit, who have since been taught in mainstream classes which are not suited to their needs.

One mum, Sherri Walker, withdrew her nine-year-old son Samuel from the school before the end of term after he was unable to cope.

She said: “He has been bashing his head on the floor, biting himself and punching himself. When he gets really upset he bites himself. It’s his way of dealing with things around him.”

Samuel, who is autistic, was told to speak up if he was struggling in class, but his mum said that was very hard for him to do. She said the school had failed to understand his needs, even sending home a school report which said Samuel needed to learn to concentrate.

“The teachers aren’t trained for this - they never expected this to happen in the classroom - and it’s unfair on the rest of the kids,” she said.

A spokesman for the Harrogate NAS branch said: “We support the addition of Enhanced Mainstream Schools in North Yorkshire.

“However the closure of the unit provision at Hookstone School to make way for an EMS represents a significant loss of provision for children with autism locally.

“The recent National Autistic Society report, Great Expectations, found that nationally 58 per cent of parents wanted some kind of autism-specific provision (such as an autism specific school or a resource base in a mainstream school), similar to what was previously available at Hookstone School.

“We would have liked to have seen the unit, where children were taught in a small group with a high level of specialist support, retained alongside the new EMS functions.”

Now, the group has complained to the Local Government Ombudsman, claiming the council failed to consult properly over the changes. It has cited a prospectus distributed last summer which said the school was an EMS, and a statement of special education needs for one pupil made last June, which stated he would be taught at the EMS at Hookstone Chase.

The spokesman added: “The branch has been clear throughout that the consultation was held too late for parents and children affected to have any influence on the outcome.

“The branch has seen sufficient written documentation to be certain that the unit closed in July 2010 and therefore that the changes at Hookstone happened before, not after the consultation took place, contrary to government guidance.”

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “We do not comment on individual cases but North Yorkshire County Council has established a comprehensive range of provision for children and young with special needs, including those with autism, in mainstream primary and secondary schools as well as special schools.

“From September 2011 Hookstone Chase primary school will be formally designated an enhanced primary school for children with a range of communication and interaction needs.

“Special school places at Springwater School, Harrogate and The Forest School, Knaresborough are also available for children and young people with significant needs and staff from the Forest School also provide outreach support to local schools.

“The aim is to match closely the particular needs of each and every child. At the heart of this comprehensive provision is the belief that the most vulnerable young people in the county are entitled to the very best education that North Yorkshire can provide.”