I first met Kim eighteen months ago, when I presented her with an award at Wootton Upper School; the award was for all she had achieved through toil and determination, as a child with special needs in a mainstream school.
Kim joined us on our special day yesterday. There was nothing political about yesterday. In fact, one parent asked me, which party I belong to, and I said “I’m not telling you, I’m everyone’s MP, until an election is called”. I didn’t want to talk about politics or anything which would distract from the focus of the day, which was to give the children a wonderful time – and my goodness – the staff at the Safari Park certainly made sure that happened.
I am going to blog about the day over the weekend, mainly because I can’t do it justice in one blog, or show you enough photos!
Back to Kim – Kim’s dream is to attend a performing arts college, but she is coming up against a brick wall. She is working at the moment in a residential home, she was enjoying this; she likes helping people; she is a very bright and caring girl. However, this changed last week following a risk assessment – now Kim ‘helps’ the elderly watch TV.
Enter residential Star College in Cheltenham. Star College is exactly the place Kim needs to be. It is equipped and staffed and able to meet Kim's needs, but more importantly, help her to realise her dreams.
Kim has been told by the authorities that her needs can be met by the local day Bedford College, a mainstream College, whose intake of special needs children such as Kimberley is miniscule.
Kim coped at Wootton School. This was down to a combination of the staff, the personalities and mix of the children and the overall atmosphere in the school (which I believe is down to the fact that Wootton has performing arts status.)
The thought of Bedford College terrifies her. She won’t go; she can’t go; to even try would make her ill. The crowds, the noise, the confusion, the constantly changing tutors, the expectation of her to be self motivated and work alone for much of the time, the travelling, it is all more than she could cope with.
When Kim is scared she retreats into herself and her own world - which is ironic when you consider that her dream is to perform and therefore enter and embrace the lives and worlds of others. It's all about the environment she is in and the care given by others around her.
The Learning & Skills Council seem determined, that regardless of her needs, that the funding attached to Kim will stay in Bedfordshire and will not go out of the County to Gloucestershire – a county which it has to be said is outstanding in it’s commitment to special needs children.
Needles to say my letters as the MP are on the way to the Director of Children Services and the Learning & Skills council. I want to know why it was decided Kimberley should attend Bedford College before her assessment had been undertaken. On what grounds the assessment was made and why? How much consideration has been given to Kim's future happiness? And why a college like Star College in Cheltenham has not been considered as the best place for Kim to attend?
If you are born without special needs and you are a young adolescent, life can be very tough indeed. It’s a fast moving competitive, busy and aggressive world. Young people need concerned adults to fight their corner for them every day. Imagine how much harder life is if you are Kim. If you have the same aims and ambitions as every other young person, but rather than working for you, society and the system are working against you.
Unfortunately this is the position many thousands of young people find themselves in every day across the UK.
Kim had a great day, as did everyone else - more tomorrow.
Lucky young people to have an MP like you who cares enough to get involved at this level.
It sounds like you have the bit between your teeth on this one. And, for Kimberley's sake, I hope you succeed. The approach to special needs children is yet another example of the 'one size fits all' philosophy of the current administration.
Secondary education is what worries me about my son who has higher functioning autism. His primary have been/are great, once they have understood him. (Luckily he's not very disruptive.)
But the thought of secondary school scares me for the reasons you outlined.
Smashing photograph. I agree with Sam, very lucky people.