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January 2011



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First Published Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Suzanne Gillies, husband Mark and Freddie

Education for all ‘Freddies’

By Chine Mbubaegbu

A mother’s battle to get her special needs son a decent education has resulted in her starting a school for other children with extreme learning difficulties.

Eight-year-old Freddie Gillies Buckner, from Three Mile Cross, suffers from severe learning challenges including autism spectrum disorder, and has been excluded from school for punching teachers, attacking other children and causing havoc in the classroom.

The youngster – who has a conceptual IQ in the top four per cent of the country for his age – was excluded from Crosfields and Grazeley Church of England Primary as teacher-upon-teacher has found his behaviour too hard to manage.

Freddie’s mum Suzanne Buckner, 41, who works under her maiden name, Gillies, was offered places by Wokingham Borough Council at various schools she felt were unsuitable for her son’s complex needs in both the public and private sector.

She said: “The headteachers have tried their best but can’t cope with children like this. They have got to think of the safety of other children and their staff.

“But I had to get an education for Freddie and on my journey I have met all these young people who also need an education.”

Ms Gillies – a resourceful businesswoman – has been given the go-ahead to open a unique school for up to 10 children facing similar challenges to Freddie’s.

Freddies Reading, based in South Street, is the first of a planned nationwide chain of Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools being set up by Ms Gillies.

It will provide education for students aged between five and 11 who have been excluded or expelled from mainstream schools.

The children will have been defined as having complex issues including behavioural, social and emotional difficulties, autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Doctors and psychologists have tried to give a label to Freddie’s special needs, but Ms Gillies said he has a “dolly mixture” of different problems.

She said: “His labels are convenient for the medical profession but do nothing to help him or help us to help him.”

It is estimated that there are some 58,100 children in England and Wales like this who have violent tendencies that cannot be handled in mainstream education.

After moving her media consultancy firm Suzanne Gillies Associates from South Street, Ms Gillies has spent the past few months building the school and getting the best staff to cater to the pupils’ unique educational needs.

Ms Gillies said: “We don’t refer to this place as a school. We never refer to it as that because for most of our children school equates with very horrible experiences.

“It’s far more like a home environment, but it is also about being firm.”

As well as psychologists and special needs teachers, Ms Gillies has also sought advice from an ex-SAS officer who is an expert in safe restraint techniques when faced with an extreme situation.

She added: “Freddies will have a community-based ethos. It’s about changing these children’s opinions of themselves because their self-esteem has been destroyed.

“Traditional education in schools is about the children having to follow a certain curriculum in a certain way.

“But education is not about doing 15 minutes of maths then 15 minutes of English, but more about helping children as human beings and bringing them into an environment where they can learn and have fun.”

Ms Gillies explained the torments she has faced with Freddie’s behaviour at home, particularly the violence, and said both she and her husband face daily criticism from parents who do not understand her son’s problems.

She added: “This is not a mum setting up a school for her child. It started as a journey of thinking it was unjust that Freddie was getting excluded.

“I have a right as a mother to send my children to a school within half an hour from where I live so I will encourage parents with ‘Freddies’ children to send them here.”


Source:  http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/education/s/2037702_education_for_all_freddies

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