A mother who waged a ten-year battle against a council has finally forced them to send her son to a special needs school which costs £214,000 – a year.
Determined Sarah-Jane Jones, 35, says her son Lewis, 15, who suffers from behavioural issues and autism, was neglected at non-specialist schools.
The mother-of-two was furious when he was kicked out of school aged just five and left stuck at home.
She claims Hertfordshire County Council offered no alternatives for Lewis other than short-term solutions at local schools.
But Sarah-Jane was adamant that he needed one-to-one tuition in a school where teachers had specialist knowledge of his conditions.
The determined mum took on the council and argued that they should pay for Lewis to attend 3 Dimensions boarding school in Somerset, which is ‘perfect’ for his needs.
But education bosses refused to pay the £214,000 school fees – which are more than six times what it costs to send a child to exclusive public school Eton.
The case was finally settled by a tribunal on May 30 which granted the funding for Lewis to attend 3 Dimensions, which specialises in young people with social difficulties.
Now Sarah-Jane, from Hemel Hempstead, Herts., is demanding a judicial review into Lewis’ case – after claiming the council wasted ten precious years of her son’s life.
The lifecoach, who is also a mother to Lauren, 18, says she doesn’t want parents of any other children with learning difficulties to go through the same ordeal.
She said: “Lewis could not read, put numbers into a mobile phone or use a calculator. He was very violent and had mental breakdowns and would be physically out of control.
“What do you do with a child like that? You do not want sympathy or understanding – you just want it to be dealt with.
“He would not survive until 18 if he was not where he is now. This has been a battle of life. I have been fighting since Lewis was five-years-old.
“But if there is a will there is a way. I have refused to be bullied by the local authority. It is only because I have such a strong character and a lot of determination that I won the fight.
“I have seen nice children being destroyed by the system because their parents don’t know what to do.
“I am pleased that the council have finally awarded the funding, but I am still calling for a judicial review.
“The government say they give every child a good education – but they are not sticking to that.
“I want to see an overhaul of the system because it is not working. If Lewis had been given the provision to support him at school when he was five-year-old he would not be costing the council so much money now.”
Lewis, who suffers from a string of disorders including dyslexia and autism, was shifted from school to school from the age of five because teachers could not handle him.
Sarah-Jane said he had tried to jury himself and police helicopters have been called to search for him after he skipped school and ran away from home.
She believed that 3 Dimensions was one of only four schools in the country that would agree to teach Lewis.
And after attending the school since May 2012, Sarah-Jane says Lewis’ behaviour has been much better and he now has a good group of friends for the first time.
The case was heard at a tribunal in London on May 21, 2012 and the decision about the funding was made on May 30.
The #214,000 a year funding covers the annual cost of providing education and care for Lewis.
Sarah-Jane added: “It has been hell looking after him for all these years.
“He broke anything and everything and even took windows out. He took his bedroom flooring up, because one day he decided he did not like it.
“He’s lucky enough now to have a good group of friends around him, who accept him. He’s a lot calmer now.
“He’s just been at home for four weeks and I have not got one damaged thing in my house.”
Herts County Council said the tribunal was called to resolve the dispute over its provision of education for special needs pupils.
A spokesperson said: “We can confirm that there has been a tribunal hearing about the nature of education provision in this case.
“The remit of the tribunal is to consider and resolve disputes around special educational needs provision – no criminal charges were brought relating to neglect nor have we been sued on these grounds.
“We have not been asked to pay any compensation. We take the care and education of Hertfordshire’s children extremely seriously.
“The issues raised at the tribunal have now been resolved and we do not feel it would be in the best interests of the child involved to comment further about this matter.”
John Barfoot, Deputy Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Children learn at different rates and in different ways.
“About one in five children will have a learning difficulty at some stage in his or her school career.
“Many of these difficulties are temporary and most can be effectively dealt with in mainstream schools.
“Schools have well-established arrangements for identifying and responding to special educational needs.
“The specialist services provided by Hertfordshire County Council are therefore targeted at those children with the most significant and complex learning difficulties or disabilities. In delivering these services we aim to work closely with schools, parents, early years settings, health services and voluntary organisations so we can respond to individual needs as well as provide as efficient a service as possible.
“We aim to secure a good education for all Hertfordshire’s children, including children with special educational needs who may require specialist provision to meet their needs.
“There is no one model that fits every child and no one price that can be quoted for providing the necessary services to support their education.
“In some cases there can be extra costs such as one-to-one tuition or care, special equipment or providing residential care while the child attends school.”
3 Dimensions school, which was established in 2004, offers a safe, secure learning environment for young people between the ages of 11 and 17 years and people on the autistic spectrum between 18 and 64.
Hertfordshire County Council said other options were offered to Sarah-Jane Jones, 35, for her 15-year-old son Lewis’ education.
A spokesman said: “We would not expect a Hertfordshire school to provide full time one to one tuition for a period of a year, this kind of support is offered on a short term basis for example, in circumstances where children are sick for a period of time to enable them to maintain their education.
“Herts. maintained schools have access to a range of resources to support individual children, both in the mainstream and specialist sectors.
“Other provision and school places were offered. Placements are identified on an individual basis and all needs are taken into account.
“In this case, both the educational and social needs were considered and despite Hertfordshire’s comprehensive local provisions for support, it was considered that the child’s holistic needs could not be met locally.”
The spokesman added that Lewis’ case does not set legal precedent because the decision was not handed down by a high court judge, but made by an Special Educational Needs.