Education & Mental Health are critical during Covid, except for kids with special needs?

Bee lives in Scotland. She is the mother of eight kids. Two are at school, three are working, and one is at uni. Six live at home, and two will be moving out soon.

She cares for her CEV husband. He has just experienced heart failure and is now at risk of stroke due to his medication. He’s awaiting knee steroid injections, an urgent hip replacement and has chronic back pain.

Bee is also a carer to her two youngest children. Quinn is 15 and autistic, with a profound learning disability, ADHD and XYY syndrome. Ozzy is 13-years-old and CV due to having Down Syndrome.

As for Bee, she describes herself as “hanging on by my fingernails.” She also has health issues that she has no time to deal with. “I take each day at a time.”

The family started the 2019 school year filled with hope. How so?

My boys began attending a newly built catchment school. It includes nursery, primary and secondary, with an enhanced secondary provision for kids with complex additional support needs (ASN). This meant they had a shared placement between the specialist hub and mainstream school.

The pandemic wasn’t your only concern at school. What else was going on?

It soon became clear that the school couldn’t meet Ozzy’s needs. When they opened, they didn’t have the diverse learners they had hoped for. So, Ozzy had no pupils his own age to interact and form authentic friendships with as he grew into adolescence. Because of that and his complex ASN, he was isolated.

Plus, the promised enhanced secondary provision that Ozzy was relying on became a shared ‘resource’ for the whole school. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT’s) view was that it is their school, and they’ll use the resources as they wish. But funding set out for ASN needs to go to the learners who it’s meant for.

Staff verbally agreed with our concerns that they could not support Ozzy’s learning and development. But they were not prepared to voice this formally for fear of losing their jobs. I felt this failure to be truthful about meeting Ozzy’s needs was to hide that their new £32 million flagship school was failing.

What was the last straw?

We applied for a change of placement to a setting that was able to meet Ozzy’s needs. This was approved, but we weren’t able to access it. My multiple caring responsibilities meant I couldn’t do the school run, and our transport request was denied.

At the same time, we had serious concerns about the school’s lax Covid risk assessment. There were no mitigations for airborne Covid. Our disabled boys were treated as second-class citizens whose safety was not on par with those afforded their peers in mainstream.

So amid our other struggles with the school, we pulled the boys out on 11 March 2020. They eventually returned part-time in December 2020 but only attended for six weeks due to poor Covid safety practice.

How did your headteacher react to your concerns and requests to improve Covid protections at school?

Despite our many requests, we were ignored. We were assured that they would “best meet the needs of all the children and young people” without making any positive changes to how school was run.

When we objected to learners from mainstream school and another campus having access to our boys’ bubble. We were told, “This is common practice across all enhanced provisions, and very much is suited to the needs of our pupils.” We were being lied to and gaslighted, putting our clinically vulnerable family members at higher risk to Covid.

Now that you’ve got approval for off-rolling, what is your outlook going forward?

Due to John’s heart issues and now cancelled hip replacement, we’ve had to put excursions and any scheduled learning on hold. When the older kids move out, this will put more pressure on us as a family, as I can’t leave John on his own, and he can’t travel.

Have you experienced any positive outcomes from the situation?

Through homeschooling, we’ve bonded closer as a family. Our boys and John have remained safe. And in the grand scheme of things, I’ve realised how much I’m capable of and that I’m on my own.

How do the kids feel about the situation?

“Um, about school… I kinda miss it. I wish Rona (Covid-19) would go away,” says Quinn. Ozzy, who is non-verbal, doesn’t seem to miss school. He signs, ‘No’ if school is mentioned and is happy to initiate his learning through books, the computer and helping with cooking.

How do you feel after your struggles trying to get the right school provision through the pandemic?

I feel betrayed by the staff. I’ve been open and direct in all discussions and believed they understood. No one listens intending to support. They only listen to seem empathetic and to tick boxes. They need to look perfect rather than look to the child’s needs and ensure he is fully supported.

Covid-19 has highlighted that schools, the government and society do not care. They may profess ‘to care’ about children’s right to education and mental health, but it’s just sound bites. Education is only for neurotypical learners who have won the genetic lottery. Those with underlying health conditions and additional support needs really don’t matter.

If you’re struggling with these issues, check out our website for support and legal advice, or connect with our followers on Twitter: @SafeEdForAll_UK

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