Chesterfield mum in fight for autistic son's future after being offered place at 'unsuitable mainstream school'

A Chesterfield mum is fighting for her son’s future after he was allocated a place at a mainstream secondary school where leaders say they would not be able to meet his needs.

Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 3:17 pm

Brandon Theobold, 10, has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and currently attends Brampton Primary School where he has thrived through specialist teaching within the Rainbow Room autism unit.

His mum Jo had hoped to get him into Ashgate Croft School when he moves to secondary education this September, a special school mentioned on his education, health and care plan (EHCP).

But Derbyshire County Council told her there was no space for Brandon and have instead offered him a place at Outwood Academy Newbold.

Jo Theobold with her son Brandon who currently faces attending an unsuitable secondary school this September

Jo said: “They’re saying it’s like for like as Outwood Academy Newbold has an autism unit – called the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) – but it’s not the same.

"He would only be expected to spend a maximum of 10 per cent of his school time in the unit and it would only be if he’d got something set up like speech therapy.

"He needs somewhere quiet to concentrate on more academic subjects like literacy, maths. The difference is that, at Brampton, he works with an autism specialist teaching assistant so he’s away from a big crowded classrooms. He can focus and get as much individual attention as he needs.

“Brandon has sensory issues and struggles with noise and crowds, he's prone to anxiety and has been referred to CAMHS before because of school related anxiety.”

Brandon Theobold, who has autism and ADHD, is said to have blossomed through specialist teaching at Brampton Primary School

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Outwood Academy Newbold has also spoken out against the decision as part of a consultation, saying Brandon “requires a more bespoke package to ensure progress.”

It added: “The Academy feels that we are not able to meet Brandon’s needs via a mainstream placement or with an ARC placement due to the extensive level of support Brandon would require as stated in his EHCP.

"The academy feels that Brandon would require full 1-1 TA support in a smaller more specialised environment where he would receive a higher level of support to ensure progress both academically and socially.

Brandon Theobold has been offered a place at Outwood Academy Newbold where leaders say will not be able to cater for his needs

“Even with an ARC placement the academy would struggle to provide the intensive support Brandon requires to support his academic and social skills.

“The academy strongly believes that taking Brandon’s complex needs into account, he would be better suited in a more specialised setting which would cater for his academic and social ability at a level to suit him.”

In desperation, Jo says she looked further afield at Swanwick School and Sports College – another special school based in Alfreton.

However she has since been told that are no special school places for Brandon anywhere in Derbyshire and that all the schools are full.

“I’ve always been a bit protective of him but I’m convinced I’m not just a paranoid mother,” Jo, who also has autism and ADHD, said.

“All the special schools are full but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need one. I wasn’t diagnosed until after my children were diagnosed and I went through school with absolutely no idea, just thinking I was weird or stupid.

"I’m still not an outgoing person and I want my children to be built up, given confidence and know their own capabilities. At the moment, I would quite happily put Brandon in any special school place and we could tweak it later.

"But I don’t want him overwhelmed, it would be a step back. At the start of the Covid lockdown, I was schooling him at home and he didn’t understand why - he lost so much weight he was barely recognisable, he was so thin.

"It might seem like a little thing but it doesn’t take that much to knock him backwards. Disabled children are being left behind as they are not being given their best possible chance to succeed due to a lack of special school places.

"So now I am struggling with a tribunal. I am also autistic and have ADHD, this whole process is a nightmare. It’s confusing and complicated. I have been in a real mess with it.

"I really wanted to say how wonderful the Derbyshire Information, Advice and Support Service (DIASS)service is... I would never have got the paperwork in on time without them.”

Jo also has another son with autism Henry, aged nine, and now fears he will face the same situation when he looks to attend secondary school in two years time unless there are major changes in the allocation process.

A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “We’re unable to comment on individual tribunal cases. We will continue to work closely with all families and education providers to find and agree the best available placements to meet the needs of children and young people across the county.”

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