Autistic teenager out of school for almost two years says special educational system has failed her

Becky (left) and daughter Leah (right) are one of thousands of families being failed by a system originally designed to help them. Credit: ITV News Central

A mother from the West Midlands believes more needs to be done to support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) after struggling to get the proper help for her daughter.

Becky, from Dudley, says her daughter Leah, who has autism, wanted to take her own life because she was so unhappy at school.

She says Leah had loved primary school, and even started secondary in all the top sets and has the dream of being a surgeon on day.

But Leah says her mainstream school started to be become difficult and began to shutdown.

  • Leah explains how she felt while attending school

Speaking to ITV News Central she said: "School started to be difficult in the last month of year 7 because that's when we got out of our bubbles in Covid and it gradually got worse and worse.

"The noise, the people, the sound, everything to the point I would have an anxiety attack.

"I knew I was there but I kept going in and out of dizziness, physically feeling sick, and barely being able to breathe - I couldn't deal with it."

Becky knew she couldn't she stand by and watch her daughter suffer, so she applied for an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) from her Local Education Authority (LEA).

It's a legal document for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities or SEND which sets out a child's needs and what must be done to support them, whether they stay at mainstream or move to a specialist provision.

She describes dealing with the LEA as a battle.

For around two years now, Leah has barely attended school, with no specialist school being offered.

'You have to fight for everything'

Becky said parents now have to push and follow through all the time to help their child because they can't rely on the system to provide an education for all children.

  • Leah's mum Becky says she's in a battle with the Local Education Authority

She said: "You have to fight for everything, and they just do not listen to us.

"She's my daughter and I know her better than anybody else and I know what she needs - it's mentally draining.

"You send emails and you don't get replies and you just don't know what's happening, and my daughter still has got no education in place."

What's being done to help children and families?

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Councillor Ruth Buttery, Cabinet member for Children and Young people, said the council aims to give all children the opportunity to fulfil their unique potential.

She said: "We recognise that children learn in different ways, which is why so many of our schools are inclusive and offer a tailored curriculum for pupils, so that they can benefit from learning with their peers in their own communities, whilst having access to a broader curriculum.

"However, for some children a more specialist school is appropriate.

"In Leah’s case, we had previously identified a mainstream school, but we are aware Leah has not been attending school.

"We have recently agreed to prepare and issue an education, health and care plan (EHCP), which is a joint document between, health, education and social care.

"The plan will identify a different education provider, this crucially will enable Leah to get back in the classroom where we know she wants to be.

"We will of course be maintaining contact with Leah’s parent as we move through this process."

The Local Government Association, which represents Local Education Authority's, said more support needs to be given from the Government to cope with demand.

It said: "It was good the Government responded to calls from [us] and set out its SEND  Improvement Plan earlier in the year, which will fix some of the problems with the current system.

"However they do not go far enough in addressing the fundamental cost and demand issues that result in councils struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND."

Government Minister for Children, Clare Coutinho, acknowledges more needs to be done to support children and families with special educational needs.

She said: "It's horrible when you hear stories like Leah. We want our young people to be in school.

"One of the things we're doing is building more specialist school places because we know there's been a lot of demand for that so young people like Leah will have young people that will suit their needs.

"But I think another important thing is that each area is going to have to do a local inclusion plan to really assess what needs they have and all their different children and young people so we can check that they're meeting them."

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