Council dithering, high court battles, and homelessness: A young man’s fight to receive an education

Nosa Omoigui
April 6 2020, 12.50

A special needs tribunal has ruled in favour of a young man battling Richmond Council, allowing him to return to education for the first time in three years.

Barnes resident Aquayemi-Claude Akinsanya, 22, has struggled with disabilities throughout his life, and left education in 2017.

A Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) tribunal, which is responsible for handling appeals against local authority decisions regarding special educational needs, has ruled that he should finally be able to resume his studies.

The official ruling of the SEND tribunal stated: “The local authority has had ample time to find an appropriate placement for him but has not done so and to allow any further time would be deeply unfair to Mr Akinsanya.

“It is now necessary for his special educational needs to be met and him to return to education.”

The tribunal has ruled that Mr Akinsanya is to study GCSE maths, physics and English at Cambridge Seminars College, with tuition and accommodation included.

The tribunal described the school as having provisions which could not be provided by any other school or post-16 institution.

This includes having adequate space, a buddy system, support for independent shopping, cooking and budgeting skills – and a stay with a specialist, host family in the area.

This mitigates the need for a lengthy commute from Barnes to Cambridge which would be exhausting for anyone, let alone somebody with Mr Akinsanya’s needs.

Mr Akinsanya suffers from dyslexia and dyspraxia, as well as having a history of epilepsy and rickets during childhood.

He also has difficulties with literacy and numeracy, in addition to problems with short term memory.

This hasn’t lessened his desire to receive a proper education.

Mr Akinsanya said: “My educational journey has been revived – it feels like a new beginning.

“Three years of continuous failings and sabotage has been a lot to endure.”

He attended Uxbridge College from 2014-2017 where he studied GCSE English, travel and tourism and functional mathematics.

However he had to leave in order to find an establishment better suited to his special needs.

He and his mother, Angela Campbell (who also has two younger SEN children), spent time in the interim liaising with Richmond Council to find Mr Akinsanya the schooling he required.

Mr Akinsanya added: “It was not an easy thing for me to experience after the feeling of being suicidal at the age of 8.

“I did not tell my mother for a while. One day I realised something needed to be done so I told my mother”

Richmond Council initially decided against putting Mr Akinsanya on an Education Health and Care Plan, but after Ms Campbell’s appeal to the SEND tribunal, the assessment was carried out.

12.1% (4657) of students in Richmond have some sort of Special Educational need, according to statistics from 2019

The EHC assessment was carried out in August 2017 – one month before the start of the school year.

By June 2018, Richmond Council was still contacting colleges to sort out a placement.

Three years later, Mr Akinsanya’s EHCP still didn’t include a place for him to carry out his studies until the SEND tribunal was forced to intervene.

Mr Akinsanya added: “After years of battle from my wonderful mother who fought for the whole first year of my education, Richmond council failed me again.

 “I am one out of millions of other SEN students who have not received any contact or updates through the post.”

Ms Campbell fought on several fronts, taking Mr Akinsanya’s case to the High Court and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman as she grew frustrated with slow proceedings.

The case with the latter was dismissed as a result of taking the case to the High Court, and a lack of appeal to SEND with regards to Mr Akinsanya’s placement – despite the fact the pair were hoping that Richmond Council would deliver on its plan to find one for him.

To compound lengthy bureaucratic battles, Mr Akinsanya was also threatened with homelessness.

He has been sofa surfing at friend’s houses, sometimes with less than £8 in his bank account.

His benefits were reduced due to the fact he wasn’t a full-time student – a situation he and his mother were fighting so desperately to rectify.

“My student status was stripped away from me. This has been a disaster, as we have been living in a dictatorship.”

He created create a petition calling for the introduction of ‘Claude’s SEN Law’ to help other SEN children and adults who have been let down by the system.

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