A family from Croydon have raised concerns about their son’s special education needs (SEN) school after they say he started to hate going to school and once returned home with an unexplained ‘black eye and bruises’.

Lalini and Russell Dowdeswell say they noticed a change in their son’s behaviour after he returned home from his Purley school.

Their 10-year-old son is non-verbal autistic and attends St Nicholas School on Reedham Drive.

Russell, who is an SEN teacher, and Lalini say when anything school-related was mentioned, their son’s mood changed drastically – he became visibly stressed, manic and unsettled.

This Is Local London: Lalini and Russell's 10-year-old sonLalini and Russell's 10-year-old son

Lalini said her son used to love going to school.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, she said: “He used to race to school in reception.

"It was like that the second year and third year. However, in the fourth year it changed. He started hiding his uniform. He is now reluctant to go to school and as soon as he’s back from school, he seems relieved.

“Our son’s behaviour changed for the worse last year. He has been displaying many symptoms of anxiety again such as hitting himself, pacing, waking up in the middle of the night, saying ‘no school, bye school’.”

They also claim their son has returned home from school with a number of scratches and bruises that were not there when they dropped him off in the morning.

They claim the school acknowledged the bruises but failed to provide a clear explanation as to how and why this occurred. 

This Is Local London: St Nicholas School in PurleySt Nicholas School in Purley

The parents are not alone in their concerns around their child’s welfare.

They have been in contact with several parents who have also made complaints about their children’s treatment at the school, which is currently rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted.

One such parent is Shanna Rose Simpson, who claims her eight-year-old son has also returned home from school with several unexplained injuries.

This Is Local London: Shanna Rose Simpson's sonShanna Rose Simpson's son

She told the LDRS how her son came home with unexplained injuries.

She said: “I send my son to school perfectly fine every day, and he comes home with injuries. It just doesn’t add up. Whenever you try to speak to these people about your concerns, they try to sweep things under the rug.”

The Dowdeswells, who are both teachers, believe those at St Nicholas are not teaching their son in line with his education, health and care plan (EHCP).

The EHCP is a tailored care plan for children with SEN needs and is used by schools to meet those needs.

They recalled a number of times when their son returned with homework that they considered to be far beyond his level of ability. This included requiring him to carry out repetitive handwriting tasks. 

In trying to get to the root of their son’s behaviour, the parents claim they have exhausted every avenue but say they have not had satisfactory explanations.

Lalini said: “This is intense, it is not a one-minute job and we have followed every procedure and policy so far.”

A recent report made by the school claimed the school was the ‘best place to meet their safeguarding concerns’.

However, Dowdeswell’s claim there are discrepancies in the school’s statements about its ability to provide the best education for their son.

Lalini told the LDRS: “On September 13, they said they previously couldn’t meet our son’s need due to lack of funding, but now they have secured funding.

"All the time before that, they insisted the school was the best place to meet his needs. They let our child suffer. They made clear that they had the funding at the end of summer, and only in September they acknowledged that they had previously failed him.”

Russell and Lalini have tried to escalate their concerns with Croydon Council.

They feel the council’s response so far has been lacking and believe their case has not been taken seriously despite the evidence.

Lalini pointed to a particular correspondence with Croydon’s Director of Education, Shelley Davis, where she did not consider the incident where they claim their son was grabbed by a teacher as a proper safeguarding issue and rejected their request to take the issue higher. 

While it is possible for children in mainstream schooling to change schools halfway through a term, the same is not the case – without difficulty in the family’s experience – for those with children in SEN schools.

Lalini and Russell believe this reality has been made more difficult by Croydon Council ‘sending wrong paperwork’ or ‘failing to send paperwork at all’.

Russell told the LDRS: “There are usually two state SEN schools per borough, those are split into severe and mild needs.

"Apart from that, it’s all state schools. There are private [, but they cost a lot and they’re usually full. We looked at half a dozen out of the borough, but they are all full as well. The other thing was when they haven’t got enough spaces, the local authority would prioritise children from that borough. “

“Croydon has sabotaged our every attempt to try and secure another school space for our child.

"They have either sent the wrong paperwork, whether it’s out-of-date paperwork or just not sent it at all. The council representative was sending the same EHCP documents that were two years out of date. We know [our son is] not happy in his current setting, we’ve been trying to get him to another school.”

Their concerns seem to be symptomatic of general concerns from parents regarding the wider issues facing SEN provisions in the borough.

Many in the borough believe that SEN provision is near a crisis point due to its lack of financial support and effective management.

In fact, at the council’s question time last month, one resident highlighted the borough’s scant provision for dyslexic primary school-aged children.

She told councillors: “One in five children are dyslexic with either ASD/ADHD or visual stress conditions, yet as one of London’s largest boroughs, Croydon does not have its own Crested LA maintained school with a Level 7 Dyslexic and Dyscalculia specialist.”

This is despite Croydon having the largest total population of all London boroughs.

Until recently, the concerned parents used an unofficial parent Facebook group to discuss their concerns.

The page was used by both parents and staff of the school. However, when a parent made a complaint about the school on the page concerning her child’s treatment, she was reportedly messaged directly by a member of staff who they claim told her to delete it, citing safeguarding concerns.

According to the parents, this incident is one of many and has led them to feel the school is ‘silencing them.’ They have since set up a private whatsapp to discuss their concerns.

Shanna said: “Whenever we as parents have issues, we are not allowed to say them.

"We don’t go on that Facebook page any more, because some people on the page work for the school. I don’t post on there any more because the person who moderates it works for the school and will take anything down. I know a lot of parents there are just afraid to speak.”

Meanwhile, Lalini and Russell consider this a fight across a number of different areas and have vowed to not give up the fight.

They feel that the clock is ticking on their son’s education and believe action must happen to address the problems they are facing in the school.

They told the LDRS they are now home-schooling their son until the council helps us find a more suitable provision, although they remain doubtful.

Lalini said: “It’s really shocking. Russell had to give up two days’ work, and he’s now only working part-time. I hope we see some lights at the end of the tunnel soon.”

When approached for comment, a representative from St Nicholas school said: “We cannot comment on individual pupils, complaints or conversations with parents for reasons of confidentiality. 

"However, the safety and well-being of all our pupils is a priority, and we will always listen to them and work closely with parents and carers to support their child.”

Croydon Council said: “The council takes all complaints seriously and will always follow up when complaints are received. We cannot comment on individual cases.”