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'Kent County Council still can't find place for my autistic daughter at Canterbury school'

A mum says her disabled daughter is being “failed by the education system” as authorities struggle to find her a place at a specialist school.

Jessica Calcutt, who is autistic and visually impaired, has now been out of school for five months, which her mum says is having a negative impact on her learning and social skills.

Prior to the pandemic, the youngster was attending Reculver Church of England Primary School in Herne Bay .

But during her annual education, health and care plan review in June, it was decided the school was unable to accommodate her needs and that she would be better suited to a specialist school.

But authorities have failed to find the six-year-old a place at a specialist school, leaving Jessica at home and falling behind academically.

Her mum Shanice, from Chartham , says: “It’s horrible. I want her to be able to write her name, write a sentence. I want her to have the same opportunities as any other child.

“Every child is entitled to an education and to make friends, and at the minute she’s not getting that. Because of Covid, all she sees is me and her sister.

Jessica is autistic and visually impaired. Picture: Shanice Calcutt
Jessica is autistic and visually impaired. Picture: Shanice Calcutt

“This is affecting her behaviour and confidence. No parent should have to fight for any child, disabled or non-disabled, to get an education.”

Shanice, 28, is determined Jessica should go to a school in Canterbury, as the journey to Herne Bay caused her to suffer from sensory overload.

“She’d lash out and get physical and verbal,” said Shanice. “She’s autistic and the travel was too much for her.

“I’m a single mum, I’m on a low income. I don’t drive.

“When Jessica’s school previously wouldn’t be able to cope with her, I was spending £20 to get her home by taxi.”

“So I want her to be in Canterbury.”

Jessica receives 12 hours of professional home-schooling a week. Picture: Shanice Calcutt
Jessica receives 12 hours of professional home-schooling a week. Picture: Shanice Calcutt

But it has now been several months since her annual review, and Shanice worries it could be a long time yet before authorities allocate her a place.

In the meantime, Jessica receives 12 hours of professional home-schooling a week, which Shanice says is not enough.

Shanice says this is not sufficient for her daughter, who cannot write her name, and gets “very distressed” when her mum tries teaching her.

“I try my best, but I’m not specialised in teaching autistic children,” she said. “Jessica used to be so happy-go-lucky and willing to try everything, but at the minute she doesn’t want to.

“Being out of school is going to affect her socialising with other children.

“Eventually, she won’t be the confident little girl that she is.”

While Kent County Council would not comment specifically on Jessica’s case, a spokesman said the authority is “committed” to ensuring every child in the county has access to a high-quality school place that is appropriate for their needs.

The council’s interim director of education, David Adams, continued: “We work closely with families and schools to ensure this happens.

“When a child has very complex needs it is not always possible to find them a place at a school close to their home as the best provision for their needs may be at a school in another part of the county.

“We appreciate this may cause disappointment for families and concern around travel arrangements, however, KCC can offer assistance with transport to school for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

“We would encourage families in this situation to contact our School Transport team or visit our website for more information.”

Visit the website at www.kent.gov.uk/education-and-children.

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