Our clients, all of whom are children with severe learning disabilities, were placed in a specialist primary school in the north of England by their local education authorities. This was a district special school for children aged 2-11 years with a statement of special educational needs, including children with profound, complex and challenging needs.
Whilst the children were at the school, their parents report that they noticed changes in their behaviour which they felt to be indicative of distress. This included refusing to put their school uniform on in the morning and, on some occasions, refusing to go to school altogether.
As all of the children either have limited speech and language abilities or are completely non-verbal, they were unable to clearly communicate to their parents the reasons for these behaviours.
Their parents also had further concerns as a result of their own observations when their children returned home from school. They report, for example, that their children were returning home soiled or with red marks around their torsos where their incontinence pads had been secured too tightly. A number of them also reported that their children had returned home with their lunch boxes full, raising concerns that they hadn’t eaten, and with unexplained injuries and bruising.
Additional concerns were also raised about the attitude of members of staff at the school towards the children there, including allegations that staff had directed derogatory behaviour and language towards a number of our clients. This included an incident where a teacher was found to have flicked water towards one of the children, who has Down’s Syndrome.
As a result of their concerns, some of the families pursued complaints with the school and local authority, as well as the Department of Education and the Local Government Ombudsman.
Due to the inability of the children to give their own witness testimony, these complaints dealt mainly with the procedural issues at the school. This included alleged failings in safeguarding and leadership, which were upheld and resulted in a number of recommendations being made to the school about its safeguarding culture, procedure and practice; and the way it trained its staff on health and safety requirements and the reporting and investigation of incidents.
A number of specific incidents involving individual children were also noted, including an incident where one of our clients was left unsupervised in a sandpit and rubbed sand and washing up liquid into his eyes. In addition to the pain and distress this caused him to suffer, the child’s family say they were particularly dismayed by the school’s failure to contact them immediately, so that they could seek medical assistance for their son.
Kate Whiting and Alison Millar from the Abuse Claims Team at Leigh Day brought a civil case on behalf of the five children, arguing that the local authority that had placed them at the school, and that was responsible for its running, had failed to provide them with a reasonable standard of care and education.
It was alleged on the children’s behalf that the totality of the concerns raised – together with the clear procedural failings at the school – amounted to systemic neglect and also violated their human rights under Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 3 (the right not to be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment).
The Defendant did not admit liability in the claim but did offer each of the families a detailed apology and the children were also awarded compensation, which their families intend to use for specialist equipment and support for them.
The mother of one of the children said:
“Sending my non-verbal, anxious child into school with an unnerving feeling that he was not given dignity, respect and the right to a safe, happy schooling environment, left me feeling sick and nervous every day which then brought about our removal of him from the education setting.
“He soon realised he wasn’t going back and was once again the happy, healthy and calm little boy we know.
“I’d like to thank Leigh Day for all their work, care and understanding during what was an emotional period to recount and show evidence (on behalf of my son) of such an upsetting time period in his education. The settlement will now go towards buying much needed specialist equipment.”
This story has been anonymised as there is an Anonymity Order in place in this case. This is a Court Order preventing any publication or other disclosure of any name, address or information which may identify any of the Claimants or their Litigation Friends. The individuals involved must therefore remain strictly anonymous.