Short shrift from Cambridge

To Cambridgeshire, then, and a small anti-cuts protest outside Cambridge country council:

I talk to a couple called Tracy and Stuart Evenden. Like the 20 or so people here, the Evendens are fighting a shock (parents got a letter out of the blue just before Christmas) Cambridgeshire county council decision to cut resources to a special needs education unit. The unit is called EOTAS, which stands for Education Other Than At School. The Evendens’ 15-year-old son is a student at this unit.

EOTAS caters for children who are unable to cope in the mainstream. Some have problems with physical health, and some with mental and emotional health. Some children are on the autism spectrum. The Evendens’ son attends EOTAS because he was bullied so viciously by students at his mainstream school that he started to go under. It seems that by the time he was 11, his terror was destroying the family. The move to the EOTAS unit, with its expert staff and supervision, pushed that horror into the past. Now, of course, it is back again. The council’s plan is to return these refugees from the mainstream to mainstream schools. “The only other alternative for [our son] is home schooling,” Tracy says, “but then he’s out of school.”

The council is running a consultation exercise with service users until 20 January, but nobody here is investing much in it. The Evendens say their emails to councillors and their MP (their MP is Andrew Lansley) have gone unanswered. While we’re here today, EOTAS students take a petition into a councillor’s office and try to talk to him, but they are downcast when they come out an hour later. They say the councillor was not reassuring. He would not back the EOTAS unit and would not commit to reversing the council’s decision. He told them every effort would be made to support them when they were returned to their mainstream schools. That was the first – and in the Evendens’ case, at least – only contact these people have had with the council about the threat to EOTAS, apart from that letter just before Christmas.

I speak to an elderly couple who say they are worried about their daughter – her behaviour problems meant she was moved from mainstream school to mainstream school before she settled at EOTAS. They are new to this kind of fight and don’t seem to understand how council operates. Not many do.

This is the first part of a longer piece which I’ll upload when I get to a better bandwidth.