‘It just seems a bit hopeless’ – family’s desperate plea for autistic son’s education

Chris and Karen Stride from Lowestoft with their son Joseph, nine
Picture: Nick Butcher

Chris and Karen Stride from Lowestoft with their son Joseph, nine Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

A family who claim their autistic son has not had suitable education since April have described their plight for appropriate provision as “hopeless”.

Chris and Karen Stride-Noble moved to Lowestoft from Surrey in October last year with their nine-year-old son Joseph, who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three, and daughter Charlotte, two. Joseph suffers from behavioural issues and high anxiety and had been educated at a special school in Surrey.

The youngster was being taught at The Landing, a facility in Lowestoft which provides education for children with higher functioning autism, but the family said his inability to cope with the class sizes and his social needs meant he struggled to thrive.

A meeting with the school resulted in an outside tutor for three hours a day providing specialist education and practical skills such as cooking, but the family claims Joseph has not had full time education for more than five months.

The couple say work to get him into other schools resulted in him being turned away – either because they could not meet his needs, or because they were full.

Joseph Stride-Noble, nine, has special educational needs and hasn't been to school since April

Joseph Stride-Noble, nine, has special educational needs and hasn't been to school since April Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

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An education, health and care plan (EHCP) was supposed to have been drawn up for him when they arrived but has still not been completed, according to the couple.

The family are now at the second stage of a formal complaints procedure.

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Karen Stride-Noble, 38, said: “He is entitled to a full time education but there doesn’t seem to be anything to say what they are doing.

“There’s a limit to how much we can take but we are hanging on by a thread at the moment.

“One of the worrying things is we are aware that there are so many people out there [wanting specialist places]. It just seems a bit hopeless.”

Their plight comes after a cabinet report published last week highlighted the huge demand on special education needs services in the county, with education chiefs stating that a further 300-400 SEN places are needed in the next two years alone to meet demand – the equivalent of there or four special schools.

Representatives from Suffolk County Council said they were unavailable for comment on the individual cases.

Suffolk County Council plan

A new approach to places for children with special educational needs has been proposed by Suffolk County Council’s cabinet.

New specialist support centres and new special schools have been recommended by the cabinet for those aged between five and 25.

The number of children and young people with special educational needs in Suffolk is growing, mirroring a national trend.

The council hopes to create these places as soon as possible with the help of a development panel.

Cabinet member for education and skills, Gordon Jones, said: “I welcome the decision made.

“It follows a comprehensive analysis and consultation where we have listened to and considered the views of our services users, partners and providers on the best way to grow our specialist education local offer both in the short term and in the long term to meet future demand.”

Labour reaction

Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman, said: “Sadly, this story isn’t unique but one of many. I have an ever increasing number of families contacting me out of desperation as they have nowhere left to turn.

“We are in the midst of an SEN crisis here in Suffolk and for too long the Tories have turned a blind eye to the growing and desperate need of children and their families and have failed to provide critical support to schools and teachers.

“The attitude that the council holds towards children with SEN has to fundamentally change – at the moment we have disinterest when there should be a hunger for improvement, complacency instead of willpower and a championing of incompetence over expertise. A whole generation of children are being failed right here in Suffolk when every child should matter. Enough is enough – we need the council to make the education of every pupil in Suffolk its priority.”

Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction

Penny Otton, education spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “We desperately need to invest in more SEN placements within Suffolk. Not only will it save money for the council, but more importantly it will ensure that our young people can be educated close to home and with their peers.

“However, it is shameful that it has taken Suffolk County Council so long to reach this point and finally acknowledge the need to invest in our SEN provision.

“As far back as 2014, council reports noted a major overspend on out-of-county SEN placements. We’re now facing a severe lack of provision in Suffolk which is only going to get worse over the next couple of years, yet all we have so far agreed is a plan. It will clearly take many years to actually develop these new places.

“Until then, children and families will continue to suffer and SCC will continue having to pay for expensive out-of-county placements.”

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