Mother Takes Trafford Council To Tribunal A Third Time For Failing Her Special Needs Son

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A Davyhulme mother is locked into a second legal battle with Trafford Council after it continues to ignore expert advice about her son’s special educational needs.

Lorcan Dillon

11-year old Lorcan suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, selective mutism, generalised anxiety disorder and motor dyspraxia which means he is unable to communicate verbally and express emotions in certain situations. Yet despite the fact that his needs are indisputable, the council has failed to offer him the help and support he needs when he starts secondary school this September.

Lorcan’s mother, Jayne Dillon, explains: "Lorcan was diagnosed with selective mutism back in nursery. The staff were wonderful and went above and beyond to engage with him with on his terms. At Woodhouse Primary School, the teachers did their best to support Lorcan’s learning despite the fact that he didn’t speak. In addition to having selective mutism, he was diagnosed with Autism at the age of eight. Back then my husband and I embarked on a lengthy battle with Trafford Council to secure funding for specialist support in primary school. He only received his Statement last summer and little did I know that we’d be headed to the Tribunal again."

Despite the best efforts of teachers at Woodhouse Primary School, Lorcan hasn’t been able to cope without specialist support: "Woodhouse Primary School has offered Lorcan as much help as they could with limited extra provision from the council. Unfortunately, the 15 hours of support he receives isn’t enough and he has continued to fall behind. Lorcan’s anxiety became worse until last January when we just couldn’t force him to go any longer. Both the school and the speech therapist made a huge effort and numerous adaptions such as allowing him to arrive a little later and participating in a reduced time table. But it just wasn’t enough and Lorcan hasn’t been back at school since."

Instead of pressuring Lorcan to attend primary school, the professionals involved with Lorcan decided he needed a Home Tutor as he was not well enough to attend primary school. The focus should be on giving him a positive introduction to a secondary school that could offer him the appropriate learning support and security. "Unfortunately, Trafford Council has since dismissed the evidence which sets out Lorcan’s special needs and the transition has been far from smooth," says Jayne.

Local Education Authorities are legally obliged to produce and deliver a final Education Health & Care plan for children with special educational needs who are transferring from primary to secondary school by 15 February. This allows families the necessary time plan for the transition, and to appeal if they disagree with the provision set out in the plan.

Jayne received a draft EHC plan from Trafford Council at the end of January 2016. "The draft plan was trivial and didn’t address any of the needs which are outlined in Lorcan’s Statement. I responded in great detail – expecting his plan to be updated accordingly."

The deadline for the final plan came and went. By March, Jayne decided not to wait any longer and instructed specialist education law solicitor, Imogen Jolley from Simpson Millar. "Within days of Imogen formally contacting the council we had the final plan but my relief was short-lived," tells Jayne. "It was as if the support outlined in Lorcan’s SEN statement had been stolen from him. Trafford Council had completely ignored all the comments I made to the draft EHC plan and issued what they considered to be the final version without making any of my changes. All of my concerns had been completely ignored."

In the plan, North Cestrian Grammar School in Altrincham was set out as Lorcan’s new school but on condition that Jayne had to transport Lorcan to and from school. No additional support would be provided that would ensure a safe transition and learning environment for Lorcan. "Although North Cestrian Grammar School has experience with children like Lorcan, he won’t last a day without full support," explains Jayne.

"The EHC plan is supposed to be a detailed document but Trafford Council has instead been completely vague in describing the support Lorcan will be given. Phrases like ‘having access to key workers’ really don’t mean anything."

According to Jayne, no information was sought from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services which has helped Lorcan with his anxiety. The local authority also completely ignored reports from an independent Educational Psychologist and Occupational Therapist.

In addition, the plan doesn’t address the safeguarding issues for a child like Lorcan who can’t ask for help if he gets lost or hurt. I am extremely worried and can’t see any alternative than to lodge an appeal for his EHC plan to be amended.

Jayne is currently waiting to be given the date for her appeal. She is frustrated by a system that forces parents to either accept that their children won’t be given the support they are entitled to, or take legal action. "I have a huge amount of evidence, including statements from speech therapists and teachers, detailing exactly the sort of support and safeguarding Lorcan needs. I don’t understand what else we need to provide before the council takes notice. The council should save the money it is spending on legal advice and spend it on the children."

"I am fighting for my son’s future. I’ve even tried to approach our local Conservative councillors whose idea of help was simply to forward my email to the SEN department. This is an unnecessary battle yet Trafford Council seems to have an appetite for meeting parents in the Tribunal. I worry for the many parents who can’t face the exhausting process it is to go through the appeal process. I hope that perhaps our story will encourage them to stick up for what their children are entitled to," adds Jayne.

Simpson Millar’s head of Education, Imogen Jolley is representing Lorcan. She says:

"What Jayne has had to go through to get her son the support he is legally entitled to is completely unacceptable. Time and time again Trafford Council has failed to listen and take on board the concerns of a mother who is acutely aware of her son’s special educational needs. None of what Jayne is asking for is unreasonable or without professional merit. Had this family not taken legal action as quickly as they did, they could still have been waiting for the plan that should have helped Lorcan prepare for a positive start secondary school months ago. I am confident that the family’s appeal will be successful, but I am sad that they have had to take such drastic action."

In the family’s previous two tribunal encounters with Trafford Council, they had to appeal the council’s refusal to assess Lorcan for having special educational needs and then appeal the council’s refusal to issue a Statement of SEN. Trafford conceded both before the tribunal dates.

Sadly the family has now been told their appeal will be heard on 3 November 2016 which means Lorcan, it seems, will be transitioning into a new school without the appropriate provision.

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