James enrolled for a one-year pathways course at City College Norwich. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures
A teenager with autism was left in tears after he began a course at a further education college only to be told days later that he was not allowed back.
James Parker, 16, who is described as having high support needs, enrolled at City College Norwich (CCN) on Monday last week for a one-year pathways course and enjoyed “the best week of his life”, his mother said.
Then on Friday his mother, Emma, received a letter from the college telling her he had been enrolled in error and asking her not to send him back to college.
Emma Parker posted the letter on Facebook on Friday saying she was heartbroken. “This has been the story through all his educational years. I’m taking this further. How dare they do this.” Her post has been shared more than 14,500 times.
It reads: “My son is autistic and was told [at the] beginning of [the] year he had to find a college for September as he couldn’t stay on at his autistic school. So we applied and went for [an] interview at the city college. He was over the moon to hear the lady say: ‘Yes, 100% James is on the course.’ So he started and enrolled Monday – had the best week of his life. He even said: ‘Mum, I could cry happy tears.’
“To then get this letter today, as you can imagine he is absolutely devastated. I’m heartbroken.”
A tearful James, interviewed on BBC Look East on Monday, said: “I just wanted to stay there. It’s like they’ve just chucked me away in a bin.”
The college said it would review its application processes but said James’s needs had been assessed earlier in the year as part of his education, health and care plan (EHCP) and it was decided he needed a higher level of support and a different learning environment from that which it could provide.
That decision, which James’s family had a right to appeal against, was conveyed to Norfolk county council in March so that a place could be found for him elsewhere. The council said it had made repeated attempts over several months to contact the family,. Emma Parker told the Eastern Daily Press she had not heard from them.
In July she made a direct application to the college. A CCN spokesman said: “On the basis of the information that was available to our staff at the time, this led to a place being offered to James which was conditional on the right support and funding being available.
“As had been determined in March, the college had already assessed that we were unable to provide the level of right support and environment needed, but this only came to light when we cross-referenced enrolment and additional needs funding records.”
The college apologised, adding: “We are clear that this very unfortunate and isolated incident should not have happened. We are now reviewing our application processes to make sure that something like this cannot happen again. We are also working with Norfolk county council to help find the right provision for James.”
The council said: “We remain very keen to work with James and his family to secure the best possible outcome for his education and urge them to respond to our offers of a meeting as soon as possible to talk through the options.”
Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said young people with autism often faced difficulty trying to find appropriate places to study once they left school.
“We know from talking to autistic young people and their parents that finding appropriate post-16 provision is really important but can be a huge challenge. Research indicates that fewer than one in four young people on the autism spectrum continue their education beyond school,” she said.
“It’s clear that the system to ensure James got on to a course that meets his needs has broken down in this instance and it’s vital that the local authority works with him and his family now to find the right provision.”