School place joy for James


A council has finally agreed to fund a place for a boy with special needs at a Jewish residential school, after he was left with no school to attend for more than six months.

James: now happy at Delamere

James Sugarman, eight, who has attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, as well as autism and moderate learning difficulties, stopped attending a local school near where he lives in Edgware, Middlesex, last year.

The school said it could not cope with his needs, so he remained at home while Harrow Council tried to find an alternative place.

His mother, Sharon Sugarman, approached the JC in desperation last year because she could not cope with James’s need for constant care. His  behaviour became increasingly difficult while he was not at school, leaving her feeling more desperate and isolated.

She was unable to work while caring for him and the pressure of the situation became so severe that she had to be prescribed medication for depression and anxiety attacks.

“I think James was getting depressed too,” she said. “He was very miserable.”

Last June, the JC launched its “Forgotten Parents” campaign, calling for better local-authority care and provision for the parents of disabled children, as well as more respite facilities.

Mrs Sugarman took James for an assessment at Delamere Forest, the Jewish residential special needs school in Cheshire. He was offered a place but the council refused to fund it, saying it preferred to find James a local school.

In an unusual move, the head teacher of Delamere Forest, Harvey Burman, and its governors, offered James a grace-and-favour place for one term, meaning the school would foot the fees of around £14,000.

Since then, James’s parents, as well as Rabbi Michael Bernstein, who set up and runs the Embee Special Education Consultancy, which offers advocacy for the parents of children with special needs and has been acting for Mrs Sugarman, have been lobbying Harrow to fund the place permanently.

When the JC visited the school last month, James seemed thoroughly engaged in his lessons.

While listening to a music CD on which the class answered questions, he interacted fully with his teachers and classmates, offering interpretations of the music and listening carefully.

At lunchtime, when all the students eat together in the dining hall, James volunteered to lead hamotzi (blessings before the meal).

“He has made great progress here,” Mr Burman said. “He has built good relationships and is definitely more settled. The programme and routine have been very good for him.”

The school, which has around 30 students, tailors each child’s learning plan to their specific needs, thus providing a personalised education.

Mr Burman explained: “This is very important, and particularly for James who needs a waking hours curriculum, not just for his school hours. Being a residential school, Delamere Forest can provide that.”

This week, Barbara Pacinella, the council’s special educational needs manager, said: “Harrow Council has written to James Sugarman’s parents confirming that we will support James’s placement at the school.”

Mr Burman called it “a victory for James.

“I felt very strongly that this was where he was best placed, and everyone agreed.”

He thanked the JC for highlighting James’s case and said: “It was a real factor, and I’ve no doubt it helped.”

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