Angry Burnley parents Neil and Keira Crossley believe they have been caught up in a political storm over the future of their autistic daughter’s education.
The couple’s eldest child, Honey (12), has missed a year of school while her parents have battled Lancashire County Council over which school to send her to.
Barber Neil (42) and training co-ordinator Keira (38) have accused the authority of putting a price on Honey’s education as it is refusing to pay for her to attend the private specialist Rossendale School.
The couple, of Pendle Way, have been backed by Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle who has criticised the county council for “hijacking” a debate he raised in Parliament.
Keira said: “Honey was only diagnosed two years ago with autism, which means she has difficulty communicating with people. She is a very smart, intelligent girl who wants to be a midwife one day. We feel Lancashire County Council is putting a price on her education and want them to invest in her.”
The county council put forward a number of secondary schools for Honey to move to including the specialist Broadfield School, Oswaldtwistle, which Neil and Keira said Honey was “petrified” of.
Keira added: “We have nothing against Broadfield or any of the other schools. We think they do an excellent job, but we know Honey better than anyone and it was not for her. She has sensory issues and was petrified when we visited. We want Honey to go to the Rossendale School, even if it is only for a year, to reintegrate her into mainstream schools.
“A county council panel was held behind closed doors which rejected our appeal and a tribunal in front of a judge also ruled in favour of the council. We cannot believe that the authority is paying for barristers to oppose our daughter’s wishes.
“We are starting to feel desperate and need help. We have even been threatened with prosecution by the county for keeping Honey off school.”
Mr Birtwistle accused the county council of encouraging Preston MP Mark Hendrick to speak against his arguments in the House of Commons – a debate in which the Crossleys and other parents of autistic children attended.
The Burnley MP said: “The way Lancashire County Council has handled this is scandalous. I was hijacked in the House during the debate. Mark Hendrick tried to undermine my argument as well as discredit me and the families.”
But the county council has defended its stance and issued a strongly worded statement saying the argument was “unforgiveable and irresponsible.”
County Coun. Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “We strongly dispute the way in which individual cases have been inaccurately presented and used as the basis for sweeping criticism of special education provision in Lancashire.
“While we cannot give details of specific children, it is a matter of record in these cases that a tribunal judge upheld our officers’ recommendation for placements at maintained primary and secondary special schools which are rated outstanding and good respectively.
“Indeed in one case, the judge took the unusual step of publicly stating that the private school favoured by the parents would be wholly unsuited to their child’s needs.
“A subsequent appeal to the Upper Tier Tribunal also found in the county council’s favour although the outcome of a further appeal to the Upper Tribunal by one of the families is awaited.
“It is unforgivable and irresponsible that a misleading portrayal of individual parents’ grievances should be allowed to undermine the faith that hundreds of families have in our special schools, all of which are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.
“We are justly proud of the quality of provision made for children with autism and other special educational needs and will continue to work closely with the families of the many hundreds of children with autism who are educated in maintained primary, secondary and special schools in Lancashire.
“I have written to MPs in Lancashire to provide a balanced view of the current debate and I have invited them to visit our special schools to see for themselves the high standard of provision.”