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Government rules mean disabled youngsters in Sunderland are set to miss school trip

Alan Douglas (far left), from Springwell Dene Academy, explains to MP Bridget Phillipson the project that the school runs to enable pupils to travel to the military cemetries of Northern France.

Alan Douglas (far left), from Springwell Dene Academy, explains to MP Bridget Phillipson the project that the school runs to enable pupils to travel to the military cemetries of Northern France.

A TEACHER today slammed Government plans to commemorate the First World War by claiming they are prejudiced against his pupils.

Allan Douglas, from Springwell Dene School in Sunderland, says commemorative plans allowing schoolchildren to visit battlefield sites in Europe fail to take into account the requirements of youngsters with special needs.

Mr Douglas added: “The Government has created a ‘one-size-fits-all’ trip and I don’t think pupils with specific needs have been given a great deal of thought.”

Now the school’s concerns have been backed by Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, who has asked for a meeting with a minister from the Department of Culture Media and Sport to discuss the issue.

For the past five years, Mr Douglas has taken pupils from the school, which caters for children with behaviour and emotional issues, to the Somme battlefield in France.

The trips, paid through from the school budget, have been a massive success and have also helped families across the city track down the graves of their war hero relatives.

Mr Douglas said: “Before we go, we always offer to help members of the Sunderland community who might want to trace the grave of a lost relative, killed in the war.”

During the last five years, the school has tracked down more than 20 soldiers’ graves, taking pictures to send to the relations back on Wearside.

So when the Government announced that, as part of First Word War commemorative plans for 2014, school trips to battlefields would be funded from a national level, Springwell Dene was hopeful they would get help funding next year’s trip.

However, on closer analysis of the plans, Mr Douglas and his team have been left disappointed.

He said: “It means pupils with specific needs would be travelling on the same coaches as pupils from a variety of schools.

“While the staff/pupil ratio the plans allow is not appropriate to our student’s requirements.

“Also, through a Freedom of Information request, I discovered the trip are costing £1,800 for one member of staff and two pupils, where as for £1,200 we have been able to take away seven students and three members of staff for 10 days.

“The plans also lack the flexibility needed for pupils with specific needs - they have been organised by people who don’t know our students or what they require.”

Mr Douglas says that unless the plans change, the school will once again have to fund their own trip so they can provide the children with standard of care they believe is appropriate.

Now Ms Phillipson, who has been a big supporter of the school’s past trips has now brought up the matter in the House of Commons.

In a question put to Maria Millar, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, she asked: “Will a minister meet with me to discuss this matter and how we can ensure that all children in our communities can join in this commemoration?”

Ms Millar replied saying: “Of course that programme should be open to all children. We would be interested to know more about the problems experienced and to try and resolve them.”

The Department of Education did not respond to the Echo’s request for a comment.

 

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