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Melanie Sykes’ Autistic Son Shut Out Of Academy

June 6, 2016

The television presenter Melanie Sykes has revealed that she is struggling to find a school for her 11-year-old autistic son after he was asked to leave a mainstream academy.

“We are doing everything we can but there are so many obstacles. Valentino could be independent, self-sufficient and a very valuable member of society, but he may lose the ability to live that life if he slips through the net,” Sykes said.

Sykes — who came to prominence as a model in advertisements for Boddingtons Brewery — and her former husband, the actor Daniel Caltagirone, said they had met many other “desperate parents” unable to find suitable secondary schools for autistic children.

They believe the problem is acute at academy schools. “They are driven by exam grades. What is becoming clear is that we are not the only ones in this situation,” said Caltagirone.

“We have met a lot of parents whose children have special educational needs who have been told, ‘We have pressure from inspectors [to meet academic standards], so your son or daughter does not fit in here.’ ”

Valentino was diagnosed in 2006 and his condition entitles him to have a member of staff with him at all times. After thriving in a mainstream primary he was accepted in September by an academy in London. But at a recent review, staff said it would be better for Valentino if he left.

Sykes, 45, who was distressed when she saw her son on his own in the playground humming repeatedly as she left the meeting, said: “We do not yet know what Valentino’s gifts are, but he definitely straddles the autistic world and the mainstream world.

“He is a high-functioning autistic child. I do not want to put him in a school with only autistic children.”

The academy, which Sykes and Caltagirone asked not to be identified, said it could not comment on individual cases but added that it was “heavily oversubscribed” and decisions about places were made by the local authority.

The couple, who have spent recent weeks visiting schools across London, spoke out as a report last week said schools in England were struggling to support the 1.1m pupils with special needs or disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

A survey of 1,100 school leaders by The Key, a management support service, found delays to assessments, insufficient budgets and cuts to local authorities were hampering the ability to cope.

One in 100 children are on the autism spectrum and 70% are taught in mainstream schools.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “All school, including academies, are required by law to provide a place to a child with SEND when that school is named on their Education Health and Care (EHC) plan.

“Should a school fail to meet this duty, the Department and the Secretary of State can direct them to do so.”

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