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Mont A L'Abbe
Prior to 1995, autism was poorly understood and treated (and often diagnosed) as a type of unknown mental handicap; often severe autism has associated mental handicaps, and detailed knowledge of autism was not widely known because it was then a rare condition. Children were placed at Mont A L'Abbe school if severe - this was a school set up to cater for children with special needs who could not manage in mainstream because of the nature of their physical and/or mental handicaps ;more able children (with Aspergers syndrome) were left in mainstream and regarded as "odd" or "backward", or if they could not cope with the lack of support, were placed at Mont A L'Abbe School. At least one child was taken from mainstream to Mont A L'Abbe, put back in mainstream, and then returned to Mont A L'Abbe, because he could not cope with unsupported mainstream education.
Around 1995, a cluster of possibly five or six children, more or less the same age, came to Mont A L'Abbe diagnosed with autism. These were initially taken care of by the nursery staff, but a seminar by Mencap that year focused attention on autism, and it was clear that more specialist understanding of the condition was required. Maggie Rigg from Hope Lodge residential school for children with autism/aspergers came over to supply advice, and a special unit was set up within Mont A L'Abbe school under the management of teacher Gay Walters, who was taking a study course from Birmingham University on autism and teaching autistic children. In technical terms, this specific provision was set up for autistic/aspergers children and those with communication difficulties.
In 1996, a local branch of the National Autistic Society was also set up in Jersey for the support of families with children or adults with autism. Mrs Rosemary Leeuwenburg was the driving force behind this initiative.
In the next few years the provision remained at Mont A L'Abbe, but experimental sessions were set up for the autistic children to travel to Rouge Bouillon school. The theory underpinning this was that children on the autistic spectrum would benefit from integration with their non-autistic peers.
A series of school trips for integration into classroom settings at Rouge Bouillon were made, and presumably confirmed the theory. A decision was then made, on the advice of Maggie Rigg to move the autistic children in the cluster en mass from Mont A L’Abbe to Rouge Bouillon.
The movement of the group was necessary on the grounds that a large enough number be moved to make the group viable, and the teaching staff available with expertise in autism would all be moving.
No mention was made of the problems of integration with the school curriculum at Rouge Bouillon. At the time, the autistic children were placed in the reception class, where the disparity between their ability and classroom syllabus was not noticeably significant.
It was envisaged that the children would stay in what was effectively a self contained unit and leave this at specific times (according to the requirements of each child) to enter classroom settings. At this stage it was sometimes described a unit for children on the autistic spectrum with communication difficulties based at Rouge Bouillon.
The induction of more able children on the autistic spectrum lead to a second tier of support, which was largely classroom based, but with key worker support. This proved to be an effective and successful innovation.
Decisions were made to effectively remove the self-contained unit, and to move the "first phase" children into the other kind of provision.
For reasons of stress, and a widening disparity between curriculum and ability, some children in the provision were not able to function within the new setting and were moved (or moved back) to Mont A L’Abbe. Others coped, but as time went on, some of these found curriculum "gap" widening and problematic in due course, and returned to Mont A L'Abbe as well.
The basis upon which the provision was set up, and the basis on which it continues to operate at Rouge Bouillon, are now quite different. Clearly, pragmatic considerations necessitated changes in the nature of the provision.
There has been a sharp rise in recent years of the number of children on the autistic spectrum, which may partly be due to better diagnosis and understanding of the variety within autism, and partly due to other factors, perhaps environmental.
A separate level of support was now also provided at Mont A L'Abbe school, within the CHIPS programme, for the more severely handicapped children who had returned and for others either already at Mont A L'Abbe or coming from Rouge Bouillon as unable to cope with the demands of the provision there.
At the start of the year 2001, the head teacher at Mont A L'Abbe school, John Grady, decided to retire at the end of the school year. During his tenure, those children afflicted with a severe form of autism, often with other associated mental handicaps, had been placed in a special provision at the school - CHildren On Individual Programmes - otherwise known as CHIPs. This ensured a consistent and reduced stress base environment for the children, whose teaching for the most part necessitated one-to-one teaching, but from which they could each, at times, be taken out to integrate with other activities of their school peer group.
The problems of stress and anxiety with these children lead to sporadic outbreaks of severely aggressive behaviour, either directed at themselves (as head-banging) or at others (children making a noise, teachers attempting to prevent self-injurious behaviour). Taking advice from a former teacher Gay Walters, who now headed a residential school in England, John Grady came to the conclusion that what was required as best practice for these children was a separate location in other building, close to the school, so that they could integrate with school activities and make use of school facilities, but they could also be taught in a much more organised and stress-free environment; he also suggested that the provision should be year long, as while a school holiday scheme was run at Mont A L'Abbe, it involved some different staff and differing routines, all of which were unsettling for the children. Finally, he suggested that the current respite provision was again an unsettling and sometimes inconsistent change for the children, and the provision should have the facility to provide residential cover if required; this would also enable the children to be taught "life skills" in a structured, distraction free, home-like environment over a complete day and night, which would cover areas which could not be covered in the limited and selected time of a school day.
Pursuing this matter vigorously, and having made some preliminary calculations on cost and work on feasibility, in the summer term of 2001 John Grady arranged a meeting with parents, Chief Officers of Education (Tom McKeon) and Social Services (Anton Skinner, Phil Dennett) and the President of Education Committee, Len Norman and the President of Health and Social Services, Stuart Syvret. Wendy Hurford, M.B.E., who had recently taken up a post supervising Special Education resources in Jersey, was also present, as was Sharon Eddie, the newly appointed new head teacher of Mont A L'Abbe (who would take up her post in the Autumn term of 2001). After a full discussion of the problems faced, both by parents struggling at home, and with the current education provision, it was resolved that a Steering Committee be set up to take the matter further, and provide a better provision for the children than was at present the case; in particular, the move from a school year to a 48 week provision was placed on the agenda, as was a move to more consistency of respite care with better integration between school and respite service providers. The separate education and residential unit was proposed by John Grady and discussed, but not placed on the agenda for the Steering group to consider; instead, a partnership between Education and Social Services was seen as the key to providing a better provision for the children, and the extra funding required.
The Steering Group consisted of Wendy Hurford in the Chair, with Sharon Eddie, head teacher of Mont A L'Abbe, another teacher in charge of the CHIPs provision, Phil Dennett (Chief Officer, Social Services), Caroline Ludlow (Manager Respite Services), and a parental representative.
It met twice in the Autumn term of 2001, and worked on the provision of a "short term plan" and a "medium term plan". No final vision of the service or "long term plan" was discussed at this stage, even in embryo. The focus of the plan was on the educational provision, with respite services being provided, in the main, as filling in the shortfall in day care of the education provision. Respite services were discussed, and the current respite provision noted by the Chairman for all the children in the CHIPs provision, and it was agreed that current levels were felt by parents to be adequate, and would be maintained, although the alternative of support workers in the home could also compliment or replace this if the parents preferred. The educational provision required new staff contracts for a longer school year, which would be 48 weeks, with current logistics and finance would involve three days a week at school during holidays and half-terms. The scheme would also be financed in part by a charge made on the parents on a similar rate and basis as that for the Education Committee for its general "Holiday Playscheme" programme; like that, this would be means tested and tax-deductable under current tax laws. The medium term provision, seen for 2003 or possibly 2004 would involve increasing this to four days, and by implication, although unstated, the final provision would be for five day cover over the 48 weeks. Also noted, but without much clarity, were the "entry requirements" for new children to be able to access the scheme; in the main, this was devolved to a separate panel of assessors.
Shortly before half-term, an abrupt decision was made to transfer the location of the school provision for the holidays from Mont A L’Abbe school to Aviemore respite care home, which went against the basic requirements for a consistent 48 week pattern. This decision was as a "fait accompli" made without consulting parents and with no meetings of the steering committee to consider the change; it was also unlikely that teaching staff or staff at Aviemore had any say in the matter. The time for the provision was also altered from 9.30 to 3.30 to 9.15 to 2.30, and if the parents had opted for school transport, this was counted in as part of the time - that is, the collection of children by school bus would take place at around 9.15 to 9.30, so that they did not actually get to Aviemore until 10.00. It was not clear who was in favour or had the final decision over these changes, but it must be considered highly probably that Wendy Hurford, as the individual in charge of the overall scheme, was responsible, probably also with senior management in Social Services. It was decided on the same unilateral basis to maintain this holiday provision for the Easter break.
The founding head teacher of Mont a L'Abbe School died aged 91 on 14 July 2001 in Nantwich, Cheshire.
Marjorie Abbot, MBE, came to the Island at the request of the then Public Health Committee because of her experience with young people with severe learning difficulties.
Before her arrival, there was no structured care of those with learning difficulties, nor was there any assistance for their families.
On her arrival in the Island, Mrs Abbot set up the Junior Training Centre in the Parade to cater for both young people and adults with severe learning difficulties, until Mont A L'Abbe came into being in the late 1960s.
Described as a determined woman, Mrs Abbot, with the help of parents, was also instrumental in the set up of Jersey Mencap.
She leave behind her children John and Julia and their families, including five grand-children and six great-grandchildren.