COLUMN: We've got to fight for our children's education

Like any parent, I want my children to receive the best possible education they can. But that fight can be harder when you have children with special needs.

Sunday, 27th November 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 10:29 am

I have two daughters, six-year-old Alice who is autistic, and nine-year-old Grace who is dyslexic and awaiting tests for autism.

Both girls were at schools in Sheffield. I had suspected Alice was autistic from approximately three years old, I thought it was just an ‘age thing’, but at four years old, she was referred for assessment.

Whilst waiting Alice began school and settled in okay at first, but she soon began to dislike school and wet herself regularly. Teachers said she was fine and happy and had ‘no concerns’.

Fast forward two years and Alice was very different, no longer cheeky and quirky, but highly anxious, upset and introverted. She hated learning because she couldn’t do it, hated school, and used to cry herself to sleep every night.

She was attending school mornings only as that’s all she could cope with. She should have been entitled to a full-time education but sadly no one seemed to care. In July she was formally diagnosed with autism, yet the school still maintained she was fine and even suggested the problem was at home.

I looked around other schools in Sheffield and whilst some has good reputations all still faced the same battles, lack of funding, too many children, not enough staff. I felt like I was being pushed into a corner to home-school Alice but I was worried she would develop a school phobia and would never learn.

I saw an advert for Castleton C Of E Primary School offering ‘flexi school’, which was a good compromise, so I went to have a look. Alice came along too and we met headteacher Nancy Lees, who listened to Alice’s difficulties with interest and understanding.

Alice fell in love with the school and had her first visit in September. When I collected Alice and she was so happy and full of herself and adored her new school. She has been every day since then – full time. She is learning and thriving in a nurturing environment with lovely supportive teachers and children who accept her for who she is.

It was so positive my oldest daughter has started there too.

Friends say to me “Castleton – that’s miles away?” It’s a 40-minute round trip twice a day. But it is well worth it to see my children thriving, learning and smiling. You can’t put a cost on happiness.

So when you chose your child’s school don’t go for the one that is most local or convenient or with the best Ofsted report, none of that means anything. Look around, meet the staff and choose the one that meets your child’s needs, because getting it wrong almost destroyed my child.