By Nadine White
The mother of a disabled child has accused an east London school of discrimination following allegations that he was coaxed into eating paper tissues as a form of punishment by a member of staff, The Independent has heard.
The 27-year-old, from Newham, has demanded answers after learning that her son, then aged six, was allegedly mistreated by those entrusted with his care over several months.
She remained unaware of the alleged incidents until a concerned teaching assistant reached out to inform her after resigning in disgust, saying his multiple complaints about the child’s treatment went ignored by the school’s leadership.
The child has multiple disabilities and complex needs including severe autism, development delay syndrome, epilepsy, chromosome 3 and scatolia. He also lives with Pica – a condition which entails the repeated eating of things that aren’t food.
The whistle-blower said they witnessed the paper tissue incident first-hand, as well as various instances whereby the child was physically pushed, spoken to harshly, and chastised for being “slow” after being left struggling to bend down and tie his own shoelaces for 25 minutes.
They lodged formal complaints to the school about the child’s treatment no less than four times from November 2020, when the allegedly abusive teaching assistant took over the child’s care, until April 2021 when the mother removed him from the school.
During that time, it is claimed that the boy suffered from an increase in epileptic seizures and once, “almost died” from a prolonged fit which lasted three days after a traumatic incident at school – one which his mother wasn’t informed about. Meanwhile, the teaching assistant said he was not trained in epileptic first aid while being made responsible for the boy’s care.
Speaking to The Independent, the whistle-blower believes racism was a factor in the vulnerable child’s treatment.
“To be honest with you, I think race was a factor. The majority of children in this separate hub for Special Educational Needs (SEN) children were either Asian or Black. In fact there wasn’t one white child there; the white SEN pupils were situated in classrooms with a teaching assistant. What’s more, there was no after-care for [this boy], no counselling, after these incidents took place,” they said.
Yet the boy’s mother said she was kept in the dark about the alleged mistreatment, despite the whistle-blower reporting it to the head teacher and assistant head.
“I am totally disgusted to hear that none of these incidents were reported to the authorities and, more importantly, to [the boy’s] mother by the school, bearing in mind even if a child has an ice pack administered the parent is either told during or after the school day,” the whistle-blower added.
“In this case, the school has decided to ‘cover up’ these incidents, which is absolutely shocking, bearing in mind their safeguarding policy.”
“I feel betrayed,” the mother told The Independent. “Even I found the primary school and enrolled [my son] there; they made me feel as though I could trust them. When I found out, it broke me for my son.
“I feel hurt and angry because I wasn’t told about these incidents despite having attended multiple meetings to discuss his care plan and his progress. Even after I found out and confronted them, they pretended as though nothing ever happened, making the witnesses and myself out to be somehow crazy.”
On more than one occasion over the period that he was in the teaching assistant’s care, the mother said her son expressed to both her and his grandfather that he no longer wanted to attend school. They couldn’t understand why and he was unable to fully articulate the reasons why.
The mother said she increasingly began to notice that her son wasn’t “quite himself”, becoming more aggressive and subdued; this quickly declined when she removed him from the school.
She told The Independent: “I actually didn’t know anything about these incidents prior to the former teaching assistant informing me. When they told me I was crying – I couldn’t help it. On top of that, when I later flagged complaints to the school and police – no one took action.”
In a response to a letter from the worried mum-of-one, alleging her son’s mistreatment, seen by The Independent, the school said that they could not share the outcome of their enquiries into the matter due to data protection legislation concerning herself and the whistle-blower – something the mother described as “disappointing”.
“I removed my son from the school and people were encouraging me to put him back there but why would I knowingly keep him in a situation where he’s being mistreated? My child comes first. His education is important but so is his health and safety,” she said.
“Like the whistle-blower, I believe it’s possible that [my son] has been treated this way because of racism, as well as ableism. It’s bullying. Discriminating against someone who you deem to be less than you, who are different!!
“My son has a strong personality which is to be handled in a particular way and I feel that the fact that he’s Black could be a factor because someone who’s of a different ethnicity may not be equipped to deal with that.”
When approached by The Independent, the school did not deny that the incidents had taken place or directly refute allegations of racism and ableism.
“We are committed to providing a safe, compassionate and nurturing learning environment and take any allegations of inappropriate treatment of children extremely seriously,” a spokesperson said.
“When these allegations came to light, they were fully investigated and the school took the appropriate action. This included following the statutory process of seeking external consultation with the Newham Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) Service to provide independent oversight on the issues raised and included liaison with the police and children’s social care.
“We are a school community that values every day, every lesson, every opportunity and everyone.”
A Newham Council spokesperson said: “The safety and creation of a positive supportive learning environment for all our pupils, especially vulnerable children is absolutely crucial and we take any allegations of inappropriate treatment of children very seriously.
“When these allegations came to light, they were fully investigated and the school took the appropriate action. This included following the statutory process of seeking external consultation with the Newham Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) Service to provide independent oversight on the issues raised and included liaison with the relevant statutory partners.
“The school communicated with the parent, sharing the actions taken by the school in response to the allegations made.”
Despite the involvement of all of the aforementioned agencies, the mother remains none the wiser about the outcome of their investigations.
Both her and the whistle-blower maintain that the school and council are being dishonest and are calling for the school’s head teacher and deputy head to resign, also writing to the new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi asking for his intervention in this matter.
The Metropolitan Police have been approached for comment.