Banbury mum battles with education system in desperate bid to get her talented, multiply-disabled son a college place
Ali dos Santos’s son Tiago, 16, who has cerebral palsy, is a talented IT student and has been offered a place on a games development and coding course at Banbury College.
A pupil of Blessed George Napier School (BGN), Banbury, who lives in Bloxham Road, Tiago has just finished his GCSEs. He has multiple physical disabilities and needs personal care but ‘walks’ to school with his friends in his powered wheelchair and uses eye-gaze technology to control his computer to communicate and complete his studies.
Tiago has helped test a disabled-adapted Minecraft game for the gaming charity Special Effect and is keen to become a games developer. He uses an adapted gaming console which he says ‘allows me to be free of my limitations’.
He is predicted to get a Level 2* distinction in his Creative iMedia GCSE which is the equivalent to a GCSE Grade A.
The post-16 course at Banbury college is ideal for him. He made his own application to the college and hopes to do a year at Level 2 and two further years at Level 3.
However at the last moment, the funding authority, Oxfordshire County Council, has said while it agrees to pay for extra staffing and Tiago’s therapy, it is not responsible for adaptations needed to enable his access to the site. Inadequate lift and toilet access are two costly but necessary alterations.
Ms dos Santos said: “Why the county council did not tell us that the adaptations were not their responsibility before this week I don’t know. I am incredibly frustrated that my son has been placed in this position. We first approached college in September 2020 via a virtual open day and were told there was no need to plan any earlier than we did.
"The local authority is not meeting education, health and care plan (EHCP) timescales which should have been finalised in December.
"Why did they name a provision (the college) when funding wasn't agreed? Why did they leave it so late to tell the college they are not responsible for funding building adaptations? They messaged me on Friday to say funding for staffing and therapy in the plan was agreed at panel on June 20. Again, why is the panel so late when they had already named provision?
"My son has worked hard at BGN to get the grades he needs and now we don’t know whether he will be able to take up his place. His second choice was a residential college in Hampshire but it would be more expensive in the long term and importantly, he wants to, and needs to be, near home and his friends.”
Ms dos Santos has been waiting since March to find out whether the necessary finance would be agreed. She was repeatedly told to ‘be patient’ and that she must wait for a complex needs panel to meet.
"At the start of June I chased a transition meeting and college said they couldn't recruit without funding in place. Now they are saying they're looking at funding streams (for the adaptations) and they're speaking to the Occupational Therapy team to see if Tiago can start without the adaptations being done.
“But there's still a chance he might not be able to go if the health and safety of the staff is not in line with guidance. The toilet there is very small and can't take the two people he needs with him. At home he has one to one care and a hoist for use if necessary but they can't do that in college.”
Ms dos Santos said: "To make those adaptations is expensive – up to £10,000 - but if the county had said back in September that they couldn't pay for these, the college might have been able to start investigating and look at alternative sources of funding. If they get them done, the facilities would be there for Tiago for the three years at college, and available for future students, visitors and to provide good, general disabled access.”
Staff recruited to assist Tiago will need training to accommodate his needs such as learning the eye-gaze communication and his physical therapy requirements. Ms dos Santos is concerned that the wasted time will prevent the new staff from being able to liaise with Tiago’s assistants at BGN before term ends.
She said the college should make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act and the local authority says it wants to keep their Special Educational Needs and Disabilities children close to home. Any alternative for Tiago will come with much higher cost implications, she said.
Ms dos Santos, who lost her husband Paulo - Tiago’s father – in 2006 in a road accident and since then she has battled breast cancer. She said the stress of trying to ensure Tiago’s further education had been very challenging to her her mental health.
She also believes it is unfair for education chiefs to expect her to research possible funding solutions for disabled young people.
A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council said: “We can’t comment on individual cases, other than to say we are in discussions with the parent and setting. We are committed to finding a solution that ensures their son receives necessary support to allow him to continue his education.”
The YouTube video on this page was filmed by the alternative communication organisation ACE when Tiago was four.