I am going to talk about two families.
My family, Diana and me and our son Guy, now 18.
Guy was diagnosed with autism when he was 2½.
When he was 4 his primary school started complaining about his disruptive behaviour.
Fortunately Jill, the speech & language therapist, told us “Guy needs a Statement”.
Thus we entered the arcane world of special educational needs.
Like everyone in our position, you enter it whether you want to or not.
Statements of Special Educational Needs are offered by local education authorities,
in our case Wandsworth Borough Council.
The Statement details what extra help and provision a special needs child should have. Wandsworth said that Guy didn’t need a Statement.
Diana and I shrugged our shoulders. So what.
Fortunately Jill knew better. She rang Wandsworth and gave them an earful,
and Wandsworth reluctantly produced a Statement.
The importance of this became clear the following year.
Guy’s school went on complaining about him, and even insisted that we remove him at 3.00 before circle time, because he ran about and disturbed the others.
That was how we met the second family, Jean and her son Aron.
Aron also had special educational needs, and was also turned out of school at 3.00.
Not very nice for parents to be told to collect their children early.
It became clear to Diana and me that the school was failing Guy, so we started to research other provision.
And we came across an independent special school, Blossom House in Wimbledon,
so-obviously right for Guy.
Here the Statement really showed its importance –
would Wandsworth name Blossom House in Guy’s Statement? No, it said, it would not.
This meant that Wandsworth was refusing to pay the school fees.
But Blossom House had already accepted Guy.
Special schools are expensive. They have very small class sizes – pupil-teacher ratios probably about 5:1 – and bristle with highly qualified teachers and therapists.
Such schools’ fees typically range from £30,000 to £80,000 a year.
Well, Guy went to Blossom House, and Diana and I took legal advice about appealing to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.
Fate took a hand. We received a completely unexpected legacy from an old family friend.
We needed it.
To start with, our solicitors told us to launch the appeal, and then move house,
from Wandsworth into Merton. We had just six months to complete the entire process.
They told us we needed a barrister, fee £5,000; three reports – educational psychologist, speech & language therapist, and occupational therapist – at £1,000 each. Plus legal fees. We won our case. Total cost: about £15,000.
Plus the costs of moving. Plus four terms of fees at Blossom House, because the whole appeal process took so long. Total cost, something like £45,000. We were sorry to say goodbye to the legacy, but it had come at just the right time.
And what of the other family, Jean and Aron? No lucky legacy for them.
No Tribunal. No transfer to a special school.
Doubtless Aron ended up in some completely unsuitable mainstream school being bullied and getting nowhere. Was that fair? Was that right? No.
And that is why Parents In Need exists, to help people like Jean and Aron.
What sending Guy to Blossom House had done was to develop whatever skills and talents he had, to give him a chance, an opportunity, hope for the future. He moved on to St Catherine’s Special School on the Isle of Wight when he was 16, and now attends Platform One Music College. Brilliant.
When I was told about Parents In Need I wanted to help.
Children like Aron should also be given a chance, an opportunity, hope for the future.
The aim of Parents In Need, with the help of kind people is to give these children that chance, that opportunity, and hope for the future.