Continuing our experiences with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) in education in Bristol.
No fair access to PE lessons:
Reasonable Adjustments for Disability in PE:
After a teacher took my autistic child out of a lesson and shouted in his face, he would no longer attend PE. He was too frightened. The noise in the sports hall was too much, the harassment he was getting from another child was too much. The autistic difficulty of lining up in the middle of a queue of children physically pushing him was too much. The final straw was being taken outside the sports hall and shouted at so loudly it ‘echoed’ around the building and left the rest of the class in wonder at the spectacle.
I made a formal complaint about the incident on Monday 24 September 2018. It was one of several ‘shouting’ at the confused autistic child incidents in which he was not misbehaving, he simply didn’t understand what the teachers were saying to him.
In it I wrote: ‘My child is an honest, mostly polite child who has a strong sense of justice and right and wrong. The fact he is reacting in this way proves Cotham School is not autism friendly. It does not have good working practices in place. Information is lost, misplaced, not passed on or worse still, totally ignored. It is against the Equality Act 2010 to discriminate against disabled people of which I would argue teaching in a manner to cause anxiety, fear and confusion is illegally exclusionary.’
It was agreed in the immediate aftermath of the shouting, one of several things that caused school phobia based refusal, that my child would temporarily not attend PE. When revisiting this decision in the above meeting on Monday 15 October 2018, I was hoping we would be able to take up an offer of alternate off site PE provision.
(This was a meeting that me and my child were invited to, but on arrival, the headteacher refused to allow him in the room.)
Unfortunately, after selling my child the idea of this alternate offsite provision, I discovered this meant I had to take him myself. I had to take him to school in the morning then go home. Then go back to the school during the day, take him offsite to the provision, wait there and then return him to school for the rest of his lessons. I then had to go home and wait before returning to the school to collect him. I have Google Mapped this journey, which comes in at 12.8 miles of school run in a day, including offsite PE.
This was not logistically possible for me. I don’t drive, have other commitments and another child at a different primary school. The school categorically refused to provide a member of staff to take him. They also mithered about him attending PE offsite with his class in the future at locations including Coombe Dingle – which would ultimately swap to Stoke Lodge.
As far as I know, no application for Top-Up funding was ever made which would have gone some way to making his day more accessible. And, grumbling was already starting to come my way about any additional staff provision in an EHCP I had applied for, even though it would be directly funded by Bristol City Council.
The result of this is that my child was removed from PE lessons at school with no other provision offered. He was expected to sit in the inclusion area instead.
Most of Bristol will have heard about the long running row concerning Bristol residents trying to stop Cotham School from fencing off a busy area of green space. I feel this row is pertinent to excluding children from PE at Cotham School.
In video – Justice for Cotham School, which was made in support of fencing off heritage green space at Stoke Lodge for PE lessons, Cotham School staff said:
‘Cotham is a highly diverse school with 34 per cent of our students on Free School Meals. Our catchment area reaches into areas of high social deprivation, including Easton and St Paul’s.
‘Many of our children live in flats and have little access to green space. They certainly can’t afford sports clubs outside school.’
In Cotham School’s propaganda video, they are talking about my child too. We live in St Jude’s although Bristol City Council likes to call it St Paul’s. We live in flats with little access to green space and 24 hour antisocial behaviour that wakes people up throughout the night. I’m not sure how that gives us the right as a family to land grab space three miles away in a different community. In fact, with no PE access, fencing it off actually restricts our access as Bristol residents too.
In the Justice for Cotham School video, headteacher Jo Butler, blames local residents for ‘blocking’ the school’s ‘very deserving children from what’s rightly theirs.’
It seems bizarre that those heading up Cotham School, have gone to war with a community some three miles away claiming they are ‘blocking’ students from PE lessons in light of the fact that Cotham School itself blocks students from PE lessons.
Facilities Manager Nate Allen, also says there will be ‘one member of staff to thirty children’ when classes are using the space. This leads me to wonder what Send and inclusion support is in place for other children at the school when it comes to accessing PE.
Chair of Governors at Cotham School, Jim Bowyer, responded to a second complaint I made about inclusion, saying: ‘I am sorry that you felt disappointed and deceived by staff at Cotham, and while I understand how distressing it can be for parents of children whose needs make it hard for them to attend school, I hope that you feel assured that your concerns have been taken seriously.’
Continuing: ‘I have also had further conversations with staff and I can not find any evidence of staff acting in a deceitful manner.
‘From my conversations I have found that school staff acted in line with the SEN code of practice in that they have made a graduated response to XXXX case using the evidence that they were able to report from XXXX presentation in school.
‘The SEN code of practice does say that schools should consider involving specialists, it also uses words such as could, may and might in relation to involving other types of support. From the evidence that I have seen I think that the school has acted in line with the code of practice, staff have considered how best to meet XXXX immediate educational needs, prioritising working with services that could provide the most useful support to enable Sid to continue his education and expedite the needs assessment required.’
If the statutory guidance for schools in the SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years, is not enough to protect my child’s right to education, there is also the Equality Act 2010, to protect the rights of all children with disabilities in school right?
The Equality Act 2010 says: ‘a provision, criterion or practice of A’s puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage’ and ‘a requirement, where a disabled person would, but for the provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to provide the auxiliary aid.’
The SEND Code of Practice, also talks about auxiliary aids, and when approaching the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information and Advice Support service (SENDIAS) service in Bristol, they believe interpreting ‘auxiliary aid’ as a member of school staff is acceptable.
But, in a list of Reasonable Adjustments, each and everyone fiercely fought for by me, the only adjustment for PE was ‘offsite PE provision’ of which he could not access. The auxiliary is clearly me. I would have to be the reasonable adjustment in school for PE provision. That is neither fair nor a reasonable adjustment.
The Equality Act 2010 and Schools, says: ‘Where something a school does places a disabled pupil at a disadvantage compared to other pupils then the school must take reasonable steps to try and avoid that disadvantage.’ And, ‘Schools will be expected to provide an auxiliary aid or service for a disabled pupil when it would be reasonable to do so and if such an aid would alleviate any substantial disadvantage that the pupil faces in comparison to non-disabled pupils.’
But what is an auxiliary aid? There is no legal definition for what an auxiliary aid or service would be but the Equality Act 2010 school guidance clearly says that ‘Legal cases have referred to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of auxiliary as “helpful, assistant, affording aid, rendering assistance, giving support or succour” and that auxiliary aids and services “are things or persons which help.”
Perhaps Cotham School uses a different dictionary, because I think providing a member of staff as an auxiliary aid absolutely would be a fair reasonable adjustment and one they have refused to the point my child could not attend PE lessons at school. That action is against the Equality Act 2010, but what parent ever has the time to take legal action when they have a child with a disability?
Regarding PE at Stoke Lodge versus Big Fence, Jo Butler told BBC Radio Bristol’s Emma Britton live on air on the 07/12/2018: ‘I need to ensure that our students are taking part in lessons in a safe and secure environment… we have safeguards in place to ensure that students aren’t able to leave our school site and we need the same safeguarding at our external provision.’
So this implies the fence is needed so children can take part in lessons and additionally, to stop absconders. An absconder is a child who leaves the school site without permission – these are usually children with unmet SEMH or Send needs.
Well clearly, anyone who’s worked in education at any level knows a fence isn’t going to stop a child determined to leave a school site. And, when my own child said he felt like walking offsite at Cotham School when he was stressed, I asked him how easily this was achieved. Apparently, as easy as pressing a button on the student entrance doors and walking out. He said that by the time a member of staff had left their office and come around to the entrance doors, he could be half way down St Michael’s Hill. So no safer than a playing field with no fence.
It is my opinion that my child was unlawfully excluded from PE lessons at Cotham School by the same body of staff currently imploring the parent body, local councillors, MPs and the wider public to erect a fence to safeguard children. By removing vulnerable children from accessing PE – including that at Stoke Lodge – it makes a mockery of the determination to fence a community space which is detrimental to its users, wildlife and protected trees.
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