‘People give up’: the crisis in school support for children with special needs


No wonder home education is increasing among families whose children have special needs.

‘People give up’: the crisis in school support for children with special needs

Two years ago, Ben Johnson, then aged nine, suffered a mental breakdown after years of difficulties at home and at school. His mother, Sonia Johnson, says he had deep anxiety and refused to go to school. From the first year of his schooling, she says, she had requested extra support, but the school did not offer the assistance she believed he needed. “I was made to feel I was hysterical and attention-seeking just for asking for support for my son’s needs,” she says.

The crisis brought things to a head. Ben’s GP signed him off. He has not been to school since.

His doctors – a psychiatrist, a paediatrician, a neurologist and his GP – had said he needed extra assistance at school. Ben was on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and had a diagnosis of autism, as well as paralysis to one side of his body because of a congenital brain problem. The headteacher, though, said Ben did not display enough difficulties to warrant the extra help his mother was calling for. Johnson felt the school’s response was “brutal”. But Ben did not have the vital document from his local authority that would help.

Since September 2014, the passport to receiving any extra services is no longer the “statement” of special educational needs (SEN) but an education, health and care (EHC) plan, intended to bring together a child’s education, health and social care needs. As under the previous system, pupils are not automatically entitled to be assessed. But now delays in the system are causing extra distress.