Headteacher: Special needs academy took in too many kids 'for the money'
- Credit: Ken Mears
An academy for children with learning difficulties has been taking in too many pupils because it wanted the extra funding, its headteacher has claimed.
Geoff Hadlow, interim head at Romford’s Lime Academy Forest Approach, made the claim to a parent.
“We have concerns about the school,” he said. “There are too many students for the footprint here and that was brought about in the years between 2018 and now.”
He added children "have been put here so that the school would earn money”.
Each child generates up to £36,000 in annual funding.
He made the comments to Daniel Mockford, who complained that the academy suspended his daughter for exhibiting symptoms of the mental health problems it was supposed to be helping her with.
“If they've been taking in more students than they can cope with, my concern is that children like my daughter are not getting the resources they need,” he said.
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Havering Council said it was now investigating “safeguarding issues” alleged by Mr Mockford.
The academy declined repeated invitations to comment.
Mr Mockford’s 12-year-old daughter Alice has several mental health conditions and, in September, lost her mother.
Her Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) says she suffers “meltdown and angry outbursts” when stressed, during which she can be “physical towards adults or children”.
Weeks after her mother’s death she joined the academy, whose website states: “We provide an exciting, safe and challenging learning environment that recognises and adapts to the needs of every individual.”
In January, Alice was suspended for three days over what the school called “persistent breaches” of its behaviour policy, “targeted at staff and pupils and also herself”. In one incident, a teacher was injured.
But Mr Mockford said Alice’s EHCP made clear she was prone to physical outbursts.
A Havering Council spokesperson said: “Alice was placed at the school following a consultation with the school and it was deemed suitable at the time.”
In correspondence seen by the Recorder, the academy claimed Alice’s EHCP was “out of date” and the council had “refused to engage” with a review.
“The school has endeavoured to follow the proper statutory process but the local authority has been less than supportive in facilitating this,” it wrote.
The council said it “does not agree with the comments made by the academy”.
An NHS behaviour specialist who began working with Alice after her bereavement has written a report saying the academy was “not able to support her emotional, academic or environmental needs”.
“I was surprised from the first contact with Alice that she had been placed at this school,” he wrote.
When stressed, Alice needed a “safe space” to regulate her emotions – but the academy told the NHS expert it was “unable to offer” one.
During his visits with Alice, the only place available was “a very small side room”.
Mr Mockford complained to the academy that its website had advertised a sensory room which was not actually available.
The school has not yet answered that complaint – but mention of the sensory room has since disappeared from its website.
Mr Mockford said he began recording phone calls to gather evidence that vulnerable children may be being placed in inappropriate schools.
In March, he recorded Mr Hadlow.
“More children have been admitted to this site than is, you know, appropriate for the range of needs that we have,” Mr Hadlow said.
Mr Mockford said it didn’t have the right facilities either.
“You probably are right,” Mr Hadlow agreed. “But that’s because children have been put here so that the school would earn money from the children being put here.”
He added: “From my point of view, this is not about money, this is about need.”
Mr Hadlow said he had been seconded to the academy to “support the school in making improvements... so it’s a better site, more appropriate for the learners that are here."
A Havering Council spokesperson said: “We have been working closely with Mr Mockford to find an alternative school place for his daughter.
“There is a high demand for special educational needs pupils within the borough, with limited places, however we will continue to search for a place until the matter is resolved.
“In the meantime, we will be looking into the alleged safeguarding issues that Mr Mockford has raised.”