Young cancer sufferer with autism denied place at special school – and told she must travel seven miles for lessons

EDUCATION: Michelle Smith (46) with her daughter Heather (11) Picture: DAVID WOOD
EDUCATION: Michelle Smith (46) with her daughter Heather (11) Picture: DAVID WOOD
0
Have your say

The family of a sick youngster with special needs is in a wrangle with Sunderland education bosses over her school place.

Heather Smith, 11, who has spent more than two years battling cancer as well as facing a range of complex special needs, wants to go to Barbara Priestman Academy, however, Sunderland City Council has refused her a place, instead wanting her to attend a mainstream school.

EDUCATION: Michelle Smith (46) with her daughter Heather (11) Picture: DAVID WOOD

EDUCATION: Michelle Smith (46) with her daughter Heather (11) Picture: DAVID WOOD

Heather has been offered a place at a secondary school seven miles from her Sunderland home after looking round a closer school, but being told a risk assessment found her motorbility needs could not be met.

Her mum Michelle said another meeting over the issue will be held in August, however, it means the family is in limbo not knowing where Heather is going to school in September.

Heather, suffers from a range of conditions including DAMP disorder (Deficits in Attention, Motor Control and Perception), which causes her to fall over, she is autistic, has attention deficit disorder, speech, sight and hearing problems, as well as the academic age of a six-year-old.

Then, the family suffered a massive blow at the end of 2012 when the Thorney Close youngster was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, cancer of the white blood cells, and has undergone gruelling chemotherapy treatment, which has also affected her health.

Michelle, 46, a community staff nurse, said Heather is involved in sports for young people with special needs and through that has made friends with a few children who already go to Barbara Priestman.

She said: “I never thought getting her into a special school would be this hard. I don’t think it is fair that we have to keep fighting like this to get her a place at the school she wants to go to, I think she has been through enough, without all this.

“It is not doing her any good and I am so stressed about it.

“She is the only one in her class who doesn’t know where she will be going to school and she is missing transition days as well. I don’t think what she wants is being taken into consideration.”

Michelle, who is also single mum to Laura-Jayne, 13, and six-year-old Stuart, said Heather, who is currently at Hastings Hill Academy, went to look at Farringdon Community Academy, but a risk assessment found her motorbility needs could not be met there and now she is being offered a place at Oxclose Academy, which is more than seven miles from her home.

Brave Heather, who is currently in remission, has proved an inspiration to everyone for the way she has faced her illness, even raising money for the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s child cancer unit where she was cared for.

Michelle said: “She missed so much school because she was so ill, but she always wanted to go in when she could. She took everything in her stride, even when her hair fell out.”

Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, Councillor Pat Smith, said: “We continue to work closely with Heather’s family, with all views and opinions considered during the mediation process.

“While this process continues it would be inappropriate to comment any further, other than to re-assure Ms Smith that we are all taking her daughter’s educational, health and social needs fully into account.”