This is the second in a series of posts that describe how we got to where we are today. You can read the first post about the long process of getting my son’s ASD diagnosis here.
As soon as my son got his diagnosis I asked the school SENCO to apply to get him an EHC Plan. For my readers who are not in the UK, an EHC (Education Health and Care) Plan is necessary for schools to get the extra funding needed to support SEN children. It is also required for children to be able to access specialist education rather than mainstream. My son desperately needed to be removed from mainstream education and in the meantime needed one-to-one support in school. The school were refusing to give him any support due to lack of funding.
The SENCO at the time was a lovely lady who was due to retire and also a very good friend of the Headteacher. She was kind but put minimal help in place and basically did whatever the Headteacher said. The problem I had was that the Headteacher did not agree that Autism existed and didn’t want to spend money helping naughty children. The result of this was that for an entire year I was fobbed off by the lovely SENCO. I had meeting after meeting about issues my son was having and I was constantly asking for her to sort the EHC Plan application because I wanted to move my son out of mainstream education.
We got as far as an Educational Psychologist coming into school to see him once. She completely agreed that my son needed the EHC Plan, that he would be better in specialist education and that more needed to be done in school to help him.
The problem is, it stopped there. The SENCO told me nearly every week that she was sorting out the application. She told me they needed to gather more evidence and prove they were spending extra money on my son. This was true but I kept wondering why five years of evidence and the backing of an Educational Psychologist wasn’t enough. She kept telling me it was in process all the way up until the end of the school year when she was due to retire. At this point she informed me the assessment team did not work over the summer and she had sorted all the paperwork for my sons application and left it ready for the new SENCO to send in the first week of September. I stupidly believed her and was happy over the summer thinking that we were one step closer to getting my son a new school.
In September the SENCO changed. The new SENCO was brilliant. I arranged to meet her straight away and she dug out my sons file. She was appalled to find that it was nowhere near ready to send! My son had seen the Educational Psychologist so long ago that it was too long ago. Not only that but he had only seen her once and there needed to be evidence of continual assessment. It transpired that the reason he had only seen her once was the Head Teacher not willing to fund the second assessment. The new SENCO started up the whole long process of getting an EHC Plan applied for again. She stood her ground and stood up for my son. She fought and fought and started to help as much as she could. She went against the head teacher and put measures in place to help my son cope, such as allowing him to eat in a quieter place and to not have to be in the playground. There was nothing she could put in place to change the fact he was in the wrong environment but she agreed with me that he needed to get out of there and did everything she could to help him while he was there.
I realised that if I was ever going to get him out of this nightmare I was going to have to fight too.
When it was taking too long to get an Educational Psychologist to come into school I rang a private one. I got Parent Partnership involved who called meetings and started to advocate for me. The application was finally sent. I was so hopeful at this point that within 20 weeks my son would have an EHC Plan. I would be able to name a specialist school and get him out of Primary school in time for year six, which I knew with the pressure of SATs and endless end of year plays and parties, would be a nightmare for him.
How wrong I was! The assessment team got round the fact they had twenty weeks to decide by using the twenty week deadline to decide if they were going to decide if they would give him an EHC Plan.
Every time I rang them his case worker was away or out of the office. His file literally sat on her desk for twenty weeks!
They sent me a letter asking if I had anything to add to the schools evidence so I spent hours between working and nights instead of sleeping, gathering evidence and writing letters. I rang whoever I could. I contacted every health professional who had ever met my son and I found pages of evidence that he needed support at school. I wrote a six page letter explaining that he needed to move from mainstream as he really wasn’t coping and no matter what the school put in place, they couldn’t meet his needs. I was aiming to get the EHC Plan and get him out of his primary school as soon as possible.
I sent my evidence recorded delivery and I was right to do so. When I rang two weeks later to see where my sons case was up to I got the usual reply about his case worker being absent and his case probably going to panel soon to see if they will put him in the pile of cases they might consider for an EHC Plan. I double checked during this phone call that they had received my letter and evidence. They denied all knowledge of it. I told them that was strange considering it was posted recorded delivery and had been signed for. It then miraculously appeared!
After twenty weeks my son’s application went to panel and they decided that his application could start the process of being considered for an EHC Plan! In hindsight I was very fortunate that they decided to assess him as since then I have met so many people who have had to reapply or appeal at that stage. By now it was almost the summer holidays.
Year six came and high school applications loomed. I knew there was no way my son would cope in mainstream high school and my dreams of moving him out of his mainstream Primary were slowly disappearing. At this stage my son was under CAMHS for being suicidal and he wasn’t coping at school at all. The assessment team were still dragging their heels and he had no EHC Plan. I rang every day, three times a day, being told that either his case worker was absent or it would be looked at soon, until eventually I got my MP to intervene and rang the local newspaper. This worked and eventually we got the plan! I was asked to name a school to go on it and I named a local SEN school which had Primary and Secondary provision and was perfect for my son. I argued that it would be better to move him then as he would be better supported and could stay there into Secondary school.
My sons final EHC Plan came through the post and I excitedly opened it, expecting to be able to tell him he didn’t have to go to that horrible school any more. My heart sank as I read it. They had named the Primary School he was in as his school provision. The very school I had gone through years of stress to try and get him out of!
I rang them and asked why. I was informed that his current school was obviously meeting his needs as he had been there so long and they had therefore named it! I nearly cried on the phone and his caseworkers response was that it’s ok because he gets free transport now. I actually laughed at her because I live opposite the school. I still to this day think she didn’t even open my letter and evidence sent for his EHC Plan application. It wasn’t even in the appendix of evidence used to write the plan.
I had to make a very difficult decision at this point. The high school I wanted my son to attend was the same school I had tried getting them to move him to and I knew I was going to struggle to persuade them to send him there for Secondary school. It was an independent specialist school and also not in my LEA even though it was five minutes from my house. Because by this time he was well into year six and appealing the named Primary School would take me until after he finished Primary School, I had to give up on that fight and instead I choose to focus on fighting my son into the right high school. I will talk about this fight in another post as it was unfortunately a very difficult battle!
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