Mother devastated by 'blatant discrimination' as daughter excluded from Henshaws college

Lena Merritt with her 20-year-old daughter, Ruby.
Lena Merritt with her 20-year-old daughter, Ruby.
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A mother has slammed the decision by a specialist school to exclude her daughter for having the ‘most complex needs’ in light of a staff shortage.

Henshaws College on Bogs Lane, Harrogate, confirmed that it has ‘reluctantly suspended attendance’ for 14 of its 95 students, despite taking on 20 new students this year.

The college is the only specialist higher education provision in the Harrogate area, serving people aged between 16 and 25 with a range of disabilities.

But Lena Merritt has slammed the decision as ‘discriminatory’ after she was told her 20-year-old daughter, Ruby, was in a group of students with the ‘most complex needs’ who were being temporarily excluded due to a ‘severe’ lack of staff.

Lena Merritt said: “I have a 20-year-old daughter with severe learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders. She has very complex needs.

“In September she started her second year at Henshaws College. We were extremely pleased with her progress in the first year and were looking forward to the second.

“It came as a huge shock to us to receive a phone call late in the day on Friday October 5, telling us that she was going to be excluded from college due to severe staff shortages.”

Lena added: “The criteria for who to exclude was those students who have the most complex needs.

“I find it incredulous that a special needs college can so blatantly discriminate against my daughter in the middle of her education whilst taking on so many new students.”

Given what Lena described as a ‘paltry two weeks notice’ before her exclusion, Ruby is now back at home and in Lena’s care full-time until January, by which time the college hopes to have recruited the additional 19 staff members it needs.

But while their place at college hangs in the balance, Lena faces 11 weeks of caring for Ruby with no respite, or send her daughter to a residential school away from home.

Lena said: “I can’t take her anywhere in the car on my own because she will constantly try to grab the wheel.

“We live quite remotely and she gets bored very easily, but there are very few things that I can take her to do through the week.”

Lena added: “I was distraught and heartbroken because she really loves going to college, she practically runs down the path with a big smile on her face.”

Helen Bramley, Interim Principal at Henshaws said: “Student numbers have increased in recent years, with 20 new students this year, as the college has developed educational provision to meet the needs of young people with a range of disabilities.

“This requires a higher number of trained staff to meet the needs of students with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

“Recruitment for an additional 19 members of staff is currently in process and we hope to have achieved the full number by the New Year.We have, therefore, taken the hard decision to reduce student numbers temporarily.

“The families of the students are being supported by Henshaws Specialist College to make alternative arrangements for the students throughout the transition process.

“Unfortunately, three of the students will not be able to return to the College because of their individual needs but we hope to welcome the remainder back once the recruitment and training of new staff is complete.”