Council chief says sorry to ‘excluded’ boy with autism

James Gillespie's Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull
James Gillespie's Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull
Have your say

THE city’s chief executive has apologised to the parents of a pupil with autism after he missed five months of classes because of a failure to provide sufficient teaching support.

Andrew Kerr has said sorry “in person” to the child and his parents – who have asked not to be named – and acknowledged the “real hurt” caused.

The parents lodged complaints over failures to make adjustments for their child’s disability during his final months at James Gillespie’s Primary in 2013. The child was prevented from attending classes because the right support was not being provided.

A probe ordered by deputy chief executive Alastair Maclean found arrangements for the pupil were not implemented properly within the school.

Officers admitted management at school level was “defective”, leading to “neglect” and “inattention” towards the pupil’s learning needs. They said this was partly the result of not “learning all appropriate lessons” from a previous review.

Education chiefs have been forced to scotch rumours that the family’s complaints caused a serious breakdown in relationships which led to a large number of staff absences.

And they have admitted a complaint lodged by the pupil’s parents at the time was not dealt with appropriately and in line with council procedure.

The development is the latest controversy to hit the city’s education department after the Cameron House and Castlebrae High scandals, and will pile further pressure on director Gillian Tee. Council sources have indicated Ms Tee is under further investigation over the James Gillespie’s situation following a complaint from the family.

In a statement, the pupil’s parents said: “There is an enormous need in Edinburgh for improved training for those supporting children and young people with autism in mainstream schools.

“The council have accepted that in our case the training wasn’t right and that there was defective management and neglect at the primary school. We have been assured that following our son’s appalling experience additional training for all mainstream schools in Edinburgh will be a priority.

“School management has a role in ensuring that the community is well-informed so that children with additional support needs are welcomed as part of the diverse mix that makes up any school.

“An excellent example is the very inclusive James Gillespie’s High School at which our child is thriving and playing a very active part in the school community.”

Opposition leaders said the case highlighted serious underlying weaknesses within the education department.

Conservative councillor Cameron Rose said: “The new chief executive and the political leadership of the council must now ensure that the sources of these problems are rooted out.”

A council spokesman said: “We have made considerable progress in improving how we manage situations like this now and in the future and we would like to thank the family for their contribution to this work.

“With the help of the family, our new ‘Better Relationships, Better Behaviour, Better Learning’ approach has been transformed and our schools are benefitting from the family’s expert advice on restorative approaches.”