Closure of SEN school fosters discrimination

Michael Howard (parent) writes to Baroness Ashton and Wandsworth Counci


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Despite an amazingly well supported parent-organised campaign and the articles and letters in the Wandsworth Guardian and Borough News and other national and local media, these officers wish to kill a school that has been a very successful lifeline for our previously discriminated against children.

They wish to send the current children back to environments that they could not cope with and also stop future generations with specific learning
difficulties from having that choice.

Why? It seems the root of the problem for the Government/LEAs is the growing scale of children being granted "statements of special educational needs", with professional specialists' recommendations that they require alternatives to their (usually mainstream) provision.

However, for a growing number of families, our problem is that the Government/LEAs seem to have a wish for "inclusion" (in mainstream schools) for all but the most severe special needs children, no matter what the particular diagnosed needs are.

Despite written statements by previous and current ministers that they care about our children and that there is a place for special needs schools, closures are still taking place.

Much of the anecdotal evidence from families recalls stonewalling by LEAs before children's disabilities are sometimes recognised, noted and addressed and they manage, with specialist help, to access the curriculum and achieve success.

And that is only for the minority who manage to discover the special needs code of practice and occasionally, with help, persevere their way through its draining procedure.

Our own family had an eight year war of attrition with Merton Council regarding our son. This included three requests for a statutory assessment, supportive professional reports, many detailed letters, fraught meetings, our son becoming completely disaffected from his mainstream secondary and two special needs tribunal hearing applications before they were pressured into
letting him attend Chartfield, a school that we only became aware of through word of mouth.

Despite all of the baggage of the previous times and having to cram everything into the remaining two years, he secured five GCSEs and other certificates and is now at FE college. We are absolutely sure that if Chartfield had not been an option, our son would have faced a very uncertain future.

We believe that this is all about saving money at our already disadvantaged (and often depressed) children's expense.

So, minister and councillors, you now have the opportunity to show that you really do care. Keep Chartfield open and recognise that there are children like ours with a range of SEN conditions for whom mainstream schools or units within them are inappropriate.

More than that, reverse the trend for closure. Create Chartfield-type SEN schools for mainstream ability children in every LEA.

Unless you do this, you will continue disability discrimination and disaffection for current and future generations of our children.

January 26, 2004