A 12-year-old boy who has Autism has spent months out of the classroom and is now facing a new battle to get transportation to his new special school. Charlie Bowe was forced to leave mainstream education just weeks into a year seven as his school could not meet his needs, according to his family.
However, despite his last lesson being in October, Charlie technically remained on roll for several months afterwards. He had no work sent home for him since then and his mum Samantha Bowe has said: “It was affecting his mental health. He was really upset.”
They lodged a special needs tribunal and, following that, he was offered a place at a special needs school. StokeonTrentLive reported that Samantha says that the school, Abbey Hill, is “the best place for him” and Charlie started there last week.
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But now Samantha has been forced to give up her job so she can drive him from their home in Trentham every day to the special school four miles away. She says Stoke-on-Trent City Council refused to provide school transport. Instead, officials offered the family a personal budget of £15.38 a day to sort out taxi arrangements themselves.
“I started ringing round taxi services and they were all saying they couldn’t take him,” said Samantha. “Either they didn’t do school runs, they were fully booked or they said he was too young to take them without a chaperone.
“Even if they could have taken him, I was getting quotes off some of them for £50 a day.”
She discovered another Abbey Hill pupil, who lives in Staffordshire County Council’s area, qualifies for a minibus to get to school and travels through Trentham. But as this transport is arranged through a different local authority, they can’t use a spare seat on it.
Samantha has to drop off her other son, seven-year-old Mason, at Ash Green Primary Academy, in Trentham, before taking Charlie to school. He is now regularly arriving late for lessons at Abbey Hill. “It’s taking me an hour on the school run in the morning and an hour in the afternoon,” his mum added.
Samantha’s boss at a cookware shop even contacted the council on her behalf. “The local authority just said my boss needed to be a bit flexible. It made us laugh as you can’t be flexible in retail. We are only a small staff.”
Although the job is still available if she can sort out the school transport, Samantha is currently out of work. And as she is appealing the council’s transport decision, she has had to turn down the personal budget, so she is funding the fuel costs herself.
It is just the latest in a series of battles to ensure Charlie gets the support he needs. As well as autism, he has learning difficulties and has the reading age of a six-year-old.
“We waited three years for his autism assessment. I’ve finally got it this year,” said Samantha. She says it also took three attempts to get an education, health and care plan.
She fears the transport request was rejected ‘because of council cutbacks’. The city council has faced growing pressure on its special needs transport budget in recent years and stopped funding post-16 transport for affected students in 2020.
Councilor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for education, said: “We are sorry to hear Mrs Bowe is unhappy with the travel assistance we have provided. The city council offers travel assistance to enable children who meet certain criteria to get to school.
“Mrs Bowe was offered a personal travel budget to subsidize her child’s travel costs. We outlined to Mrs Bowe that she could appeal this decision and the case will now be reviewed further.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.