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  • My autistic daughter attends a private school, they have said that she can only proceed to year 10 if she does 7 GCSEs. Could this be considered descriminatory if other options to allow her to attempt 8 GCSEs haven't been considered?

    My 14 year old daughter is autistic and attends a highly academic all girls private school. She is academically able, but has had a very difficult year 9.

    She became very unwell with depression around Christmas, not able to attend school but received treatment and has gradually returned to school. She also had problems with attendance in year 7.
    Her school have been brilliant on a day to day basis, allowing her the flexibility to recover and gradually increase attendance in lessons.

    However, they have also been actively harmful by not giving her clarity about whether she would be able to remain at the school or progress with the rest of her peer group to year 10. Before the Easter holidays a comment was put in her individual education plan, that on consultation with subject heads that 'A has missed too much content in maths, biology, chemistry and physics to successfully proceed to year 10.' We highlighted that as A's struggles are predominantly social, resitting a year would not be in her best interests.

    No specific catch up support was given by school, apart from a textbook and workbooks. She has spent time in the learning support area for self directed learning but has not had specific input beyond a daily check in. She is not currently doing a full timetable as made the decision to prioritise her GCSE subjects as she was aware that she had missed a lot of work. Apart from allowing her flexibility, and timetable reduction, limited reasonable adjustments have been put in place. We have requested that she be observed in school by an external professional (a private psychologist, working within a reputable local private company) to give additional specialist advice but this has been refused by school.

    This has made it very hard for her and the stress has impacted on both her ability to attend school as well as study for exams. Despite this she completed and passed exams in the 8 subjects she hoped to take for GCSE. Her results were not at the level she was used to but were not the worst in her year.

    A has a descision to issue an EHCP but doesn't have an EP assessment or a draft EHCP. School had suggested that she didn't require an EHCP and that she doesn't require further support.

    She would usually take 9 GCSEs but it was suggested that she dropped a modern foreign language so she could have time in learning support. She agreed with this.

    Her overall attendance this year was 44% but has increased to between 65-80% (in part due to physical health problems, for which she is now recieving treatment.)

    She wishes to attempt 8 GCSEs and if only permitted to take 7 (+ an HPQ, considered half a GCSE if her attendance improves) will undertake an additional GCSE outside of school.

    The outcome from school has stated that she can progress to year 10 but will only be permitted to do 7 GCSEs (+ HPQ if attendance increases.) It was noted that she has made good progress but still has gaps in her knowledge and areas to catch up with. No specific plan has been made to support her to catch up with the work she has missed.

    It is stated that if her attendance decreases as a reasonable adjustment she will be permitted to do fewer GCSEs.

    She is also allowed flexibility if she wishes to do PE, however it is stated this would mean the school would not have evidence for a risk assessment to allow her to attend DofE expeditions.

    She was not allowed to attend her DofE practice expedition before Easter - it was offered that if she was driven to the venue she could take part in the first day (if she proved to a teacher she had eaten lunch) but would not be allowed to stay overnight or attend the second day meaning it would not qualify as a practice expedition (even though we offered to stay nearby to collect her if needed.) This was despite a letter from her psychiatrist saying that her mental state had improved and she had no concerns, as well as supporting from a family support worker. A takes part in multiple activities outside school including long hikes (and will do a private DofE expedition in the summer.)

    I am concerned that the school is not considering all reasonable adjustments to support my daughter's wellbeing and her desire to do well academically. It feels that although concessions are being made the only real option is to limit her timetable and opportunities without consideration of all other reasonable means to support her. The school has also not acknowledged external advice including from her psychiatrist. I'm also concerned that school is using reasonable adjustments as a threat to try and get her to comply rather than as a way to allow her to overcome the difficulties related to her disability.

    Would there be grounds to consider indirect discrimination? I would be keen to remove my daughter from the school, however she is wants to remain there.

    I would be keen for her to start a course of 8 GCSEs, with a plan to drop one if it was too much. This is because her health is improving and therefore her attendance is also likely to be better. I feel this would be the least restrictive option as it would be impossible for her to increase the number of GCSEs she takes once the course has started.

    I have reviewed the complaints policy but haven't yet put in a formal complaint as I have been told that school are giving concessions so I should not be confrontational.

    It is difficult to communicate with school the only opportunity to speak to the team is in formal meetings which are very stressful. I am allowed to email school but it is often a one way communication.

    I am autistic and it has taken a long time for school to be open with what will be discussed in meetings before they occur. This has meant that I have become very distressed and unable to participate fully.

    Ant Saif

    17 Jun 2023