Monday, April 20, 2009
Pupil with Asperger's syndrome rejected by school
Alex Goodenough, who has Asperger's syndrome, with his mother, Joan, after winning a place at Cambridge University. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian
By Haroon Siddique - The Guardian
A teenager who was refused a place at his local school because he has Asperger's syndrome has won a conditional offer to study engineering at Cambridge.
Alex Goodenough, 17, taught himself at home from textbooks after Hertfordshire and Essex high school and science college (H&E) rejected his application to study there.
A special educational needs and disability tribunal ordered the school to apologise to Alex for treating him less favourably "for a reason related to his disability".
According to the National Autistic Society, children with Asperger's syndrome face "huge battles to get the education support that should be theirs by right, often at considerable emotional and financial expense".
More tribunal cases concern autism, of which Asperger's is a type, than any other type of special educational need.
The schoolboy said he used the school's refusal as motivation and achieved As in three maths subjects and some physics modules. Now he is at another school, studying for the practical physics exam, which he could not take while learning from home and is a condition of his offer from Trinity college, Cambridge.
He said: "Maybe my story at least shows people that even if institutions put this bar up and won't help you and give you an environment where you can be comfortable, at least with enough work and luck you can still do well." Jan Goodenough, Alex's mother, said: "If somebody causes damage to another human being in terms of injury or damaging their career there's compensation, but for special educational needs people there's nothing. It took an enormous amount of time and effort. The only reason I did it was I knew it was so wrong and I wanted justice."
Alex completed his first year of A-levels a year early at another school where his mother, now an educational consultant, was teaching at the time. But after she left the school she contacted H&E in June 2007 to enrol Alex there because the specialist science college was walking distance from their home in Bishop's Stortford.
Over several months she had contact with five different school officials.
H&E initially rejected the application on the basis that Goodenough could not guarantee Alex's "regular attendance", a result of his condition.
While the tribunal panel accepted that there were "misunderstandings" between Goodenough and the school initially, it found that H&E refused to send her an application form and on three separate occasions incorrectly told her the sixth form was full, which "may have been intended to discourage Ms Goodenough". It said Alex's education was "probably adversely affected".
Alex said he was denied social interaction through studying at home.
"If I am at school I have got people around me, if I am not allowed to attend I don't have that connection," he said.
Goodenough said: "When he was sitting at home after being rejected he went through a really bad time. It almost amounted to agoraphobia because he was missing out on social contact."
The school, closed for Easter, was unavailable for comment, but has written a letter of apology to Alex.
• This article was amended on Monday 20 April 2009 to remove the phrase "suffered from Asperger's" as the Guardian stylebook discourages the uses of such phrases in stories about disability.
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