South Scotland

Registered blind boy 'blocked' from attending chosen school

Luca Kirkpatrick Image copyright Heather Kirkpatrick
Image caption Luca Kirkpatrick's mother said he was being denied the chance to attend the school that best suits his needs

A six-year-old boy who is registered blind cannot attend the school his family want him to following council changes to pupil-teacher ratios.

Luca Kirkpatrick's mother Heather said her son had been given a place at Brydekirk Primary near Annan.

However, the day before he was to start the move was blocked by Dumfries and Galloway Council because the school is due to go down to just one teacher.

Ms Kirkpatrick said she planned to appeal the decision.

The council declined to comment on individual pupil needs but said giving children the best start in life was one of its "main priorities".

'Welcoming school'

Luca has a rare genetic condition which affects his vision and doctors believe his eyesight will get worse as he gets older.

He started his school life in the primary one class at Brydekirk but his family were advised to move him over concerns he had Asperger's.

However, an assessment by the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh found that he has blind autism which means his eye sight is so poor he cannot read facial expressions.

Ms Kirkpatrick said Brydekirk had now been identified as the school which best meet his needs.

She added that he had friendships there and was familiar with the space so was at less risk of being injured or hurt.

But the decision not to allow him to return to Brydekirk had come at the last minute.

She told BBC Scotland: "Luca was due to start school on Tuesday last week.

"On Friday we went to school so he could familiarise himself with the space.

"The headteacher was really welcoming, all the children unprompted from the playground ran up to the fence to him - they were thrilled to see him and he was just enthralled that everybody was there.

"Last Monday at 8:30 at night, we got a phone call from the head to say his application had been blocked."

Image copyright Richard Dorrell
Image caption Brydekirk is one of a number of small schools where parents are concerned about the change in threshold for one-teacher schools

Ms Kirkpatrick claimed that when Dumfries and Galloway Council was contacted the following day the family were told his application was being blocked because Brydekirk was becoming a one-teacher school in August and he did not live in the catchment area.

Ms Kirkpatrick said: "Dumfries and Galloway have got their own admissions policy so for children that are identified with special educational needs such as Luca they are allowed to attend a school that is out of catchment if the school meets his needs best - and Brydekirk certainly does.

"His emotional needs are just as important as his academic needs. We as a family and Luca himself feels that is where he's best placed."

What is changing in Dumfries and Galloway schools?

From August, in Dumfries and Galloway schools one teacher can be in charge of 25 children in one class instead of only 19.

It could mean some schools - like Brydekirk - caught in between those figures losing a teacher and seeing pupils aged four to 12 in a single class.

Parents are holding a meeting about the issue this week for primaries which could be affected including Nethermill, Springfield and Johnstonebridge as well as Brydekirk.

On the wider issue of class sizes, Dumfries and Galloway Council said it had agreed the change in its budget in February this year.

A statement said: "One of proposals was that primary class composition would match national guidance across all primary schools.

"Part of this saving means that a small number of schools will be affected by the change in threshold in one-teacher schools from 19 to 25 pupils.

"Council officials will take steps to meet with headteachers and then parents as appropriate, to support them in the implementation of this change."

However, the Scottish government said it believed councils should not be cutting teacher numbers, particularly where such decisions impact on pupils like Luca.

A statement said they had invested heavily in ensuring teacher numbers have increased steadily, with primary schools nationally now having more teachers than at any time since 1980.

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