Suffolk Parent Carer Forum hearing ‘heart-breaking’ accounts from families with SEND children after Stowupland High School, near Stowmarket, brings in Barry Smith
A group that is the ‘voice’ of families with SEND children in Suffolk has said it is receiving a ‘really high level’ of complaints after a high school brought in a controversial education consultant.
Suffolk Parent Carer Forum (SPCF), which is the strategic consultative body for special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) services in the county, said it had raised the concerns in relation to Barry Smith at Stowupland High School with the local education authority, Suffolk County Council.
There has been a backlash from some parents after the John Milton Academy Trust-run school, near Stowmarket, brought in Mr Smith, of Barry Smith Education, to help with its efforts to improve behaviour.
Parents recently met in Stowmarket to share their worries over the impact on students with additional needs following a toughening up over behaviour at Stowupland High, saying ‘it’s not a military school’. According to student accounts, they are being asked to shake hands with Mr Smith, make eye contact and say ‘Sir’.
Claire Smith, chair of SPCF, said: “Suffolk Parent Carer Forum are having an alarming number of complaints and concerns from parent carers of children with disabilities at Stowupland High School.
“We are very concerned over disability discrimination.”
She added: “I really feel for these families and it’s heart-breaking the accounts I’m hearing. The effect it’s having on these children. They are becoming withdrawn. They are fearful of coming to school.”
She said she had heard of parents considering taking their children out of school and others asking for assurances Mr Smith won’t be anywhere near their children.
“This is not why children go to school,” she added. “They go to school to learn and these children with SEND need support.”
While behaviour was picked out by Ofsted as needing improvement at the school, so was support for children with SEND.
Mrs Smith said: “Our cohort is children with poor mental health and special educational needs and disabilities.
“In law they have a duty to reasonable adjustments. The school have to give reasonable adjustments and what we are hearing is they are being denied these reasonable adjustments.
“It’s a known fact that children with NDD [Neurodevelopmental Disorder] struggle with eye contact. To enforce it inflicts physical pain on these children.”
She added: “You do not improve behaviour by these tactics. Behaviour is improved by meeting need. Behaviour is communication. If you are not happy with the behaviour you need to understand what’s causing that behaviour.”
A parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said their child’s learning in class has been ‘vastly improved’ since Christmas due to, in the child’s words, the ‘naughty and disruptive kids’ not being allowed to behave in that manner anymore.
The parent added: “We understand that some of the practices that are being used may well be difficult for some of the SEN children and this is something that the school should be discussing with the relevant parents to allay those fears.
“However, we have only seen positive outcomes in the level of behaviour in school since Mr Smith’s arrival, which is a good thing.”
Shaun Common, interim CEO of the John Milton Academy Trust, said the trust was aware of concerns surrounding the work at Stowupland High to address behaviour and create a polite and welcoming environment for learning, including concerns over the impact on children with SEND.
He said: “The school is taking great care to ensure students with SEND are not disrupted by our efforts to improve the school and will instead benefit greatly from the calm and polite learning environment we look to foster.
“We take our responsibility to care for our SEND students extremely seriously and would always make appropriate concessions regarding behaviour.
“We have already seen improvement in student behaviour across the school and are confident we will continue to see the benefits as our work continues.”
He said Mr Smith was working with school staff in a coaching capacity and to support the school with its modelling. He is not part of the teaching staff and cannot give pupils detentions or suspensions, he added.
“We will be happy to meet with individual parents and carers to discuss their concerns,” said Mr Common.
The trust has said it was working with a number of external parties with a wide range of expertise, including Mr Smith, to bring about improvements.
A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said they were aware of concerns from parents and SPCF.
SuffolkNews has attempted to speak to Mr Smith.