School left disabled pupil out of play

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The Independent Online

A school has apologised to a six year-old boy who was left out of the Christmas play because he suffered from a condition similar to autism. A tribunal ruled that he had been discriminated against because of his disability.

Lee Buniak, who has learning difficulties, was left out of the play last year at Jenny Hammond primary school in Leytonstone, east London, even though all his classmates were taking part.

He was also excluded from all other school Christmas activities, the Christmas disco and class photographs.

More seriously, the special educational needs tribunal tribunal said, the school had failed to appoint a suitable full-time support worker after receiving funding to do so. This meant that Lee could only join in class for two hours a day when his assistant was there. His mother, Helen, estimated that Lee lost 920 hours of support that year.

Lee has learning difficulties and communications problems, which mean that he has no perception of danger and does not understand risk to others or himself. Until recently, medical experts believed Lee suffered from a mild form of autism but they now believe that his "social difficulties and explosive behaviour" are largely emotionally driven rather than due to underlying autism. Mrs Buniak said: "It was a year of trauma for Lee. Not being in the school Christmas play was the lowest point. Before he started at school he was happy and chatty but he became upset and frustrated because of the lack of support."

Mrs Buniak took the school to the tribunal in October. It ruled that the school discriminated against Lee by treating him "less favourably" because of his disability and in failing to hire support staff.

In a letter to the tribunal, Sally Labern, the school's chair of governors, told the hearing that it did not oppose Mrs Buniak's claim. No one at the school was available for comment. Lee has since changed schools.

Since September 2002, schools have been obliged to ensure that disabled pupils are not treated "less favourably" and are not disadvantaged in any aspect of school life.