Derbyshire family facing a year out of school due to insufficient support

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A Derbyshire family say they are “grieving for their children’s lost childhood”, facing a year out of school due to insufficient support

Paula and Greg Williamson have been striving to provide a supported education for their two children, aged 10 and eight, but have faced extensive challenges which have virtually taken over their lives.

Their two children, one of whom has been diagnosed with autism, are due to be out of school for a year after their schools could not support their needs and due to a lack of alternative provision in the local area.

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Paula told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the family had encountered a slew of problems with Derbyshire County Council in their bid to have their children properly supported and educated.

Greg and Paula Williamson, from Glossop.Greg and Paula Williamson, from Glossop.
Greg and Paula Williamson, from Glossop.

This includes a lack of communication, delays and errors such as schools being named for the children which had already said they could not be properly supported, and with a tribunal on the horizon.

Paula said they deregistered their children from school after they experienced “anxiety, stress and trauma” in mainstream education and could not be supported for their children to remain in full-time supported study, “dragging them into this difficult system”.

She said instead of being assisted to support them in school they felt no option but to deregister or face fines for non-attendance.

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A first draft education, health and care plan (EHC Plan), which would outline the legal obligations to support their children, was delayed by 10 months for their eldest child and lacked consultation with the schools the council recommended and it proceeded straight to the final draft in December.

Councillor Alex Dale, Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for EducationCouncillor Alex Dale, Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education
Councillor Alex Dale, Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education

Paula said the family, from Glossop, have had to appeal this to a tribunal which will not take place until this December, with the council reportedly missing deadlines for submissions.

She says the family have sought alternative provision to support their children but say it is non-existent in the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales, Derbyshire services focused in the south of the county.

They have extended their search to Stockport and Oldham in Greater Manchester instead in a bid to secure support.

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Paula said: “It is frustrating. We are forced to do this because there is such a lack of support. It is letting this children down. My children have been impacted massively.

Chesterfield MP Toby PerkinsChesterfield MP Toby Perkins
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins

“They have no social interaction and it is difficult to make friends. I have had to stop working and the grandparents now have to be involved in helping us care for our children.

“Both Greg and I have started counselling due to the stress. So to then find out the council has been sitting on all of this money for special schools places, we were just like ‘what?’”

Toby Perkins, Chesterfield MP, spoke in Parliament claiming the county council was sitting on £16 million meant, in part, to fund special school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and not spent it for years.

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Cllr Alex Dale, cabinet member for children’s services, said money for special schools places was to be allocated to areas with the most need and that the authority was still in the process of assessing how best to distribute the money.

Paula said she had been told about the continued assessment but said: “It is ridiculous how long it has taken to get to that.”

She said: “It is not good for the children. The whole system is set up to let these children down, in many ways. Hearing about the £16 million was just another big slap in the face.

“Not all families can do this. We are struggling and we are left in such a complicated situation when we have children with really complex mental health concerns. They (the children) feel aimless, they have told me as much, and it is just devastating.

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“They are losing that self belief, the confidence and their social skills that are so important when you are growing up. You grieve for what is a normal childhood, and as a parent. We are not doing the school run and I am not part of the PTA anymore.”

Cllr Alex Dale, the council’s cabinet member for education, said: “We understand and accept the frustrations of parents in relation to our timeliness in processing requests for EHC Plans and indeed we have previously acknowledged that our performance and our communication with families has not been good enough.

“It’s been a huge area of focus and activity for the council over the past year and a half and we’ve taken a number of actions which have helped to significantly improve our performance in recent months.

“This includes restructuring our teams, improving processes to make systems more efficient, investing in new technological solutions and significantly increasing the capacity of our teams, with an additional £1 million invested into the service, to better cope with the huge increase in demand we have faced in recent years.

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“In relation to the SEND capital funding, the vast majority was not announced by Government until 2022, so it’s inaccurate and misleading to imply we’ve held it all since 2019.

“We are working very hard towards allocating this important funding, but it’s money that can only be spent once so it needs to be based on a proper, high-quality sufficiency study to ensure we provide the right sort of places in the right areas to meet the demands we are facing.

“Rushing to make ill thought-through decisions around allocations would mean we’d fail to adequately meet the needs of Derbyshire children, further exacerbating the issues around the spread of provision referred to and ultimately cost the taxpayer far more in the long term.”

He said the authority hoped to make “some initial announcements” about how this money would be spent “in the coming weeks”.

Some would be spent on school places but some would be spent on alternative provision and enhanced resources to enable children to stay in mainstream schools.