Until the age of 11, Alice attended a small village primary school. With just six classrooms and a teaching assistant to help Alice, her parents thought this nurturing and caring environment would be the best start for her.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of her parents and teaching staff, Alice, who was diagnosed with autism when she was three and a half, was slipping further and further behind her peers.
Alice’s father takes up the story:
Within a few weeks of Alice starting her first term we realised she needed more support and because the school was in a good financial position, they were able to provide a teaching assistant to work with her as part of helping the whole class, topped up with a small bit of state funding.
Even with this Alice would get lost in the school, forget the names of fellow pupils, and was so unaware of her surroundings that she didn’t know whether it was lunch or dinner time.
She did make slow, gradual progress, which actually makes it harder to get the right help from outside agencies, which often wait for a child to be failing before they will intervene. However, when it came to secondary school, it was clear that we did need to get an EHCP (Educational, Health and Care Plan) in place, and we tried to do this while Alice was in year 5 in primary.
It was a nightmare for us as this was during the lockdown. I knew what the schools were going through trying to provide online learning, classes for key worker children and, the covid-measures. I’m a governor of the school, a local priest, it wasn’t realistic to push it.
In the December after the schools re-opened, we had our first EHCP rejection from the local authority. We went to mediation, and we were told we had a very strong case. It was serious for us, with Alice set to go to a school with 1,000 kids and no support without an EHCP.
When we went to mediation and they basically said that without the right bits of evidence (which the school hadn’t completed because of the lockdowns) they were just going to say no.
But there was another opportunity for Alice, a nearby private specialist school but they needed an educational psychologist report costing £3,000.
I put in a call in to Clergy Support Trust to see if it could help and the Grants and Services Officer was just brilliant. The Trust kindly paid a proportion of the educational psychologist’s cost for the assessment and report.
Alice’s situation was referred to Clergy Support Trust’s Education Advisor who supported the case and with a 50% bursary in place, the Trust was able to support towards the shortfall for the fees.
Alice’s father continued:
Alice was thankfully awarded a place and Clergy Support Trust has also contributed to the costs, while we get the EHCP in place, which has made a massive difference to us. My in-laws are also helping towards the fees which are a substantial £18,000 a year.
We are now working with the school to get the EHCP in place, which will mean Alice’s place is funded by the local authority, and we will no longer need Clergy Support Trust help.
The Trust’s support has just taken the pressure off us while we deal with the delays caused by the lockdowns.
Alice’s mother takes up the story:
Since being at the school Alice has gone from being five years behind her classmates to just two years. They’ve managed to give her the basic building blocks, almost with the first term, especially in maths. They’re clearly speaking her language and her confidence has really picked up as well.
She was the Angel Gabriel in her Nativity Play, and before she’s never really taken part in anything, let alone a speaking part. It’s brilliant what they’ve been able to do with her.
When I picked her up after her first day, and she came home and in the car all the way home, she was telling me about the day, and that had literally never happened before.
Alice’s father continued:
The help with school fees so that Alice can go to a specialist school has changed everything about our lives. Last year was a black cloud. Without the help of Clergy Support Trust, we would be home schooling or watching her go through hell in mainstream, probably traumatising her for life while we waited for the right paperwork. We just weren’t prepared to do this. I honestly can't imagine what we would have done if she wasn't there.
(*Names changed at the request of the family)