Adoptive parents expect their new child may deal with issues such as attachment, after living through prior traumatic circumstances, both pre and post-birth. It’s also not unusual for adopted children to have special educational needs. But what one adoptive family didn’t expect was to end making an important legal clarification ruling about school exclusion...
The family in today’s article have two adopted children. Both were soon diagnosed with ADHD, social difficulties, and sensory processing disorder. But the parents were shellshocked when their 10-year-old son was excluded for "aggressive behaviour" from the well-known private school where they had enrolled him.
They believed the school had discriminated against their son because of his disability and took their case to the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT). They won their case, with the Tribunal finding the exclusion was unlawful and disproportionate. It found the school had failed to try other measures first and the headmaster had behaved inconsistently in actions against other pupils for similar behaviour.
The school appealed to the Upper Tribunal, saying the FTT didn’t have the jurisdiction to order it
Those are the bare bones of the story. But what is the family’s side? What effect has it had on them and why did they go to such lengths? This is their story in their own words as told to Special Needs Jungle - they have used pseudonyms to maintain their anonymity.
Being told that your child has been excluded from school is something no parent wants to hear. For parents whose kids have special educational needs, the shock can be even harder to cope with. For
We adopted our children Bobby and Emily when one was 15-months-old and the other was two-years-old. They are now thriving 10 and 11-year olds, who are kind to others, fun to be with and full of enthusiasm for life. They are bright sparks with huge intelligence, and we love them to pieces.
Like many adopted kids, they’ve had a huge amount to deal with in their short lives. Their special educational needs come from the traumatic experiences and disrupted attachments of their babyhood. Neuroscience now shows that these early life traumas affect the wiring of the brain and nervous system and previously "looked after" children usually need a lot of support and scaffolding.
Getting a diagnosis
It was when Bobby first started primary school that it became pretty clear to us that things were different and after getting him assessed, we started along the road of parenting a child with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder, two very common diagnoses for adopted children. It explained a lot of his difficulties and made parenting a lot easier as we understood why he did certain things.
We fought for an EHC Plan and after several years the local authority finally named a school we felt could meet his needs: the prep school, Ashdown House. The headmaster was an absolute blessing. He really “got” Bobby and within a year, our son had progressed so much that he was scoring amazing results. We were so happy with the pastoral care that we decided to put our daughter into the school as well. We will forever be grateful to that head and his teaching staff.
In July 2018, he sadly had to resign his position as head due to ill-health and we were told an interim head was to be appointed. The new head started fully in Sept 2018.
A shocking turn of events
In February 2019, the week before Bobby was excluded, he revealed information to his art therapist that she felt was a safeguarding issue, something we still have no clarification on. She reported this to the relevant member at the school, who did not report it to social services.
During the same week, Bobby was stabbed in the hand with a pencil by another student on
We were then advised that we would have the outcome of the headmaster’s investigation by the Saturday. We duly arrived at the school for the outcome, and our world fell away when we heard the words “permanently excluded”
Schooling at home
I cannot describe the pain, the anguish, the shame and the horror of the situation. This all turned to a burning desire to clear his name, as we knew our child and family had been wronged by the headmaster’s decision.
I had to hand my notice in at work, as I worked with adults with learning difficulties and the local educational authority wanted to place Bobby in a secure unit until another school could be found. I had to resign as we felt that homeschooling was the best option as sending him to another school, especially to
We took the decision that I would stay at home and home educate Bobby. I take my hat off to parents who home educate as it is so hard!
The road to clear his name
We first went through the internal appeal system of the school but the decision was the Cothill Trust upheld the headmaster's decision. This was very frustrating as they did not look at the legal aspect of their decision, only that they had followed their own policies and procedures.
After the appeal, we decided the only option we had was to pursue the matter in court, based on the school discriminating against Bobby for his disability. We won the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) and we were delighted, and the judgement stated Bobby was to be reinstated and given a letter of apology. That was so important for our adopted child to know this wasn’t his “fault".
The Cothill Trust refused to adhere to the court order. They then appealed to the Upper Tier Tribunal. We felt very let down; the FTT was unable to enforce its decision and this left us feeling utterly helpless in the eyes of the law.
At this stage, things were very difficult for us as
Off to the Upper Tribunal, with a helping hand
The Cothill Trust were told a second time after their appeal, that they must adhere to the judgement and still they refused!
The Trust then appealed to the Upper Tier Tribunal. At this point, we were thinking this is a joke, they have been proven to have broken the law, but nothing can be done. The real issue was cost because each time you attend court the legal fees are substantial
At this stage, our legal team (Sinclairs) approached the Human Rights and Equality Commission who were appalled by the behaviour of the school. They agreed to fund the appeal to the Upper Tier Tribunal (UTT) as this affected all children within education in the UK
The UTT ruled in favour of Bobby on all four grounds. The court ordered Bobby to be reinstated, a letter of apology and a redacted copy of court proceedings to be given to the Equality Human Rights & Equality Commission.
Bobby has now started at his new school and they understand his needs. I just wish there were more schools like this. There are so many different kids in this world with such varying degrees of needs who all deserve a suitable education tailored towards their individual needs.
It’s been very hard both emotionally and financially for our family, and you know what: “money you can make but a childhood you can’t take.” It is not fair how the powers that
We need to make it better from a legal standpoint for
Every child regardless of disability has the right to the same level of education.
Read the judgement in full here (PDF)
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