Sometimes, despite the evidence pointing to an obvious conclusion for a specialist placement, the local authority won’t listen. Max’s story illustrates how our SEND lawyers helped get the right result.
Max, who’s autistic, was due to transfer to secondary school when his parents contacted us. Max is academically very able and functioning well above the expected levels for his age. His autism has features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger syndrome. He had speech and language difficulties, motor and sensory difficulties, and also emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Max initially had statutory-level support (in the form of an SEN statement) from his local authority from aged eight. He received a high level of learning support assistant help in his maintained primary school.
The school identified that Max’s behaviour had deteriorated in Years five and six. They supported his parents’ view that mainstream education for Max at secondary school level would be inappropriate. They agreed it would be impossible for Max to access daily school life without 1:1 support. The school had given an enormous amount of input to support Max, acting on advice from external experts, monitoring each initiative and recording outcomes.
Even so, Max’s primary school acknowledged that they were struggling to manage his education and behaviour, based on the support provided in his Statement. It agreed to fund additional support to enable him to learn. Their strategies included Max being able to enter the school building before other students on arrival and be escorted by an adult, so he could be prepared for entering the classroom setting.
Even so, there were many mornings when Max was in a high state of anxiety and would refuse to communicate with anyone, sitting with his head covered. The school reported that Max could be verbally rude or lash out. His teaching assistant would have to talk him through the day ahead and prepare him for the expectations of the class teacher. Sometimes another adult would have to be present for up to an hour before Max would engage. During this time he would be visibly distressed, pulling his hair and face, rocking, hitting himself and pushing and throwing objects nearby.
Wrong educational environment
Once calm, Max would then be taken to class, but it meant he missed a substantial amount of lessons. The school believed these difficulties arose because mainstream school was the wrong type of educational environment.
Max couldn’t cope in certain lessons, leading him to
- Tap the table repeatedly, even when asked not to by staff.
- Push books and other objects around to prevent him and others engaging in the lesson.
- Refuse to engage in any discussion with teachers and fellow pupils
- Distract others in the class
When staff tried to draw his attention to the consequences of his behaviour he would then become anxious and this could result in him:
- Putting his head between his knees under the table
- Banging his head repeatedly on his desk or chair
- Crying and raising his voice
- Sitting on the floor away from the class group
- Rocking whilst sat on the floor
- Total disengagement from everything in the lesson and everyone in the room
High anxiety and sensory needs
Max had significant sensory needs and would find certain noises and lighting overwhelming. His anxiety levels were very high and he could be fearful over very small issues. He would hide in his wardrobe at home or alternatively hit out in a ‘fight or flight’ response. He was very impulsive and had no sense of danger, even running out into the middle of busy roads without checking first.
However, Max had a very real sense of right and wrong. If he felt that a situation had been unfair, he would remember every injustice and retaliate at a later time when people were unprepared and unaware of what they had done wrong in Max’s eyes. This led to a number of injuries to other children and staff having to spend a significant amount of time trying to understand the reason for Max’s aggression.
It was only with intensive support from teaching assistants (TAs) and other significant adults, that Max’s primary school had been able to manage the situation to prevent him from being excluded. The school acknowledged that without this constant support he would have been excluded very quickly.
His primary school said Max was spending more and more time out of the classroom due to his levels of anxiety and frustration. He would instead be taught by a teaching assistant in a quiet area. Any slight deviation from the usual school day and timetable meant that he would become extremely anxious, leading to an escalation in his behaviour. The primary school concluded that while Max was a very able boy and needed to be challenged academically, he required a specialist ASD school environment where his anxieties could be managed together with his communication difficulties and his sensory needs.
A maintained secondary named!
Despite the complexity of Max’s needs and the views of his primary school, the local authority (LA) issued an EHC Plan for Max naming a large maintained secondary school with 1,400 pupils. This was even though at the annual review meeting, the professionals and parents agreed that Max required a specialist school placement.
Max’s parents believed that he needed to be placed in a residential school specialising in the education and care of pupils with ASD and complex associated needs. He needed a holistic approach with a high staff-to-pupil ratio, together with small classes and an extended day curriculum. They believed this sort of environment would be able to manage Max’s anxiety levels. Once he was no longer in a state of high arousal, he would be able to access the curriculum.
Our SEND lawyers support the family at the First-Tier Tribunal
Max’s parents visited a number of schools and decided that Grateley House School an independent specialist school run by the Cambian Group, was an appropriate placement that would be able to address Max’s special educational needs and also provide direct occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, a social communication skills programme and a highly structured behavioural management programme. But despite overwhelming evidence, the LA continued to argue that a large mainstream secondary school was able to meet Max’s needs.
Our specialist SEND lawyers supported Max and his parents at a SEND Tribunal hearing. The hearing found in favour of Max’s parents and ordered the LA to amend Sections B, F and I of Max’s plan and to name Grateley House School in Section I on a residential basis.
Max now attends Grateley House where he is reportedly doing very well. His parents are delighted with the progress that he is currently making, saying.
“Just thought you might all like to know that Max has settled in well at Grateley, and has made friends. He has been elected to be his house representative on the food council – which is the first time he has ever been voted for.
We are thrilled with how well he is doing, and that while the legal battle was traumatic, we had plenty time to get him prepared for Grateley and it has been great so far, although we miss him being at home.
Thank you for the work you did to help us get Max where he has the chance to shine.”Max’d parents
Get in touch today to see how we can help your child get the support they are entitled to and the school placement that they need to help them fulfil their potential.