The independent London newspaper

Parents face schools chaos in latest lockdown

Uncertainty puts extra stress on special needs pupils

08 January, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Michelle Clarke with son Thomas, who is a pupil at The Bridge satellite school in Highgate

PARENTS of children with special needs say they were left in a desperate situation after the government’s confused messaging on schools caused chaos.

Rebecca Kelly had to take unpaid leave twice this week from her job as a nursery teacher as she grappled with the rapidly changing circumstances of her autistic son’s education.

At the beginning of the New Year, she had prepared Charlie, 13, for going back to The Courtyard St Mary’s Magdalene school as part of a permitted reopening, before a U-turn from the Department for Education ruled that all schools in Islington must close for at lease two weeks.

This was followed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s national lockdown announcement on Monday evening.

Ms Kelly spent the following days worrying that Charlie might have to stay at home often with only her 15-year-old daughter to look after him.

It was only when the Tribune contacted the Liverpool Road school yesterday (Wednesday) that Ms Kelly said she was told her son could come back.

The mother-of-two said: “I spent all week in despair and building my child up to be able to cope alone. I am not even sure what I want to do. It’s horrible it has to come to this and I’m livid. I really am.”

Deborah Shepherd, headteacher at The Courtyard, said: “We completely sympathise with all of our pupils and parents at this time. Sudden change is never easy and we do recognise that it is more challenging for people on the spectrum and their families.”

She added: “Currently over 25 per cent of our pupil cohort are receiving face-to-face education in school. We are in regular communication with our families to ensure that they feel supported at home. As the lockdown continues, we expect our pupil numbers in school to increase. We are fully committed to this.”

Ms Shepherd claims that all parents in the school were contacted and offered the chance for their child to attend class.

Another concerned parent, Michelle Clarke, said she was left waiting to see if her son Thomas could go back to the The Bridge satellite school in Highgate.

Ms Clarke, who lives in Old Street, said: “On Monday he was really looking forward to going back to school and suddenly it was all thrown up in the air. The home schooling thing the last time around just didn’t work. My son can’t differentiate between schools and home, he struggles with understanding he has to do stuff at home which he does at school.”

By Wednesday the school had managed to secure him a place.

Ms Clarke said: “He’s very happy but I feel for those parents who haven’t been able to find a solution.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have prioritised vulnerable children and children with special educational needs and disabilities throughout the pandemic.

“We know these are difficult times, and that’s why we’re addressing these issues urgently.”

They added: “Alternative provision and special schools remain open to vulnerable children and children of key workers, as with all schools. We are working closely with the sector and will publish guidance in due course.”

Since the lockdown was announced, all pupils in English schools have been asked to stay at home, while vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers are allowed to attend.


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