Part of a series of true stories reflecting the struggles of SEND children and families in Birmingham recorded by Laura and Paul from Children’s Quarter during 2021/22. See the Stories Without Pictures index.
J told us about her struggle to get to her son educated in a mainstream school. She made it clear she believes the school acted without regard to the law; and saw inclusion as an add-on it couldn’t afford. J, however, stuck to her demands and, eventually, it has been the school that has changed. New staff and a new culture have seen the school put inclusion at its heart. This is a positive story, but J still worries about the way unlawful exclusion is being hidden in Birmingham.
“I will say this about ‘off-rolling’ – I think it is important for us to get an idea of how many unlawful exclusions there are. I think a lot of people – a lot of parents – do not know that what schools are doing is sometimes unlawful. Like part-time timetabling. And it is not enough when a school says the reason (for illegally excluding a child) is that they do not have enough resources. In terms of exclusion, there are legal procedures… but schools find ways round them.
“My son T has Down’s Syndrome and he is now in year 6 at a mainstream school. He has really good support. Ever since year 1 he has never been excluded. He did have a lot of problems in his first year (in Reception) at school and he was sent home. The headteacher at that time… did not have any experience of inclusion. She was still the ‘old school’ I would say.
“I said to her ‘This is unlawful; this is not right. If you want to exclude my son, then you have to do it properly. You can’t just call me and tell me to take him home.’ I said – ‘I know that there is a problem, but we need to work out (together) what the problems are. It’s no good you sending him home (because it actually can seem like a reward to him for poor behaviour); it doesn’t help’.
“I think there were two reasons (why the school illegally excluded my son). One was the mentality of the headteacher and the leadership of the school. The second is, really, funding and the school’s understanding of funding. I remember being told by the SENCO that T ‘only had funding of £3000’ and that they couldn’t afford to get a TA. But, I said, ‘Well, we have the statement (of his needs) and it is very specific in that statement. If the statement says he needs 1 to 1, then he should get 1 to 1.’
“This was 6 or 7 years ago and in those times, and even now, I think a lot of SENCOs were trained by councils. They knew what they were told by the council; not the law. They would say how the council is doing things: ‘We are doing things this way and you just have to follow’. They had no idea that actually the law says the local authority has the responsibility to fund education. That’s very important; I have argued for it.
“Eventually, T got the funding and they got the TA and the education psychologist to come into school to look at what happened; to see why he behaved in a certain way and then work out a strategy and (from) then he (has) had no problem. The school changed. The headteacher… moved on. New headteacher; new deputy head and they were all for inclusion…
“We were really lucky – eventually everyone got on board and knows what inclusion is. Rather than us trying to shape T into the mould of the school; the school made adjustments. I think that is so important in how a school deals with inclusion. My son is now moving to year 7 and I have been looking at different schools – mainstream and special schools. I have talked to some in mainstream and I have found they really haven’t got a clue about what real inclusion is.”