Mum blasts school with ‘systemic’ issues after kids ‘escaped and ran into traffic’

By Joe Coughlan, Local Democracy Reporter

Two parents and a former teaching assistant at a primary school have claimed its special educational needs (SEN) department suffers from “systemic” issues that are putting children at risk.

Gemma Ekrem, 39, had three children at Old Bexley Church of England Primary School in Hurst Road, Bexley, until the most recent school year.

Her six-year-old son Harley has global development delay and an autism spectrum disorder, with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) in place to address his needs.

Gemma Ekrem, 39, claims the school left the reception door and gate open (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

On March 30 this year, Ms Ekrem was called to the school to pick up her middle child, Hayden, while he was feeling ill, and arranged to collect all three of her children at the same time.

During the handover, she claims the school’s main gate and reception door were left open, and as Harley’s teaching assistant (TA) brought him to the office, Harley let go of their hand and ran out the door and gate when he noticed they were open.

CCTV shows the moment he runs up the stairs and out of the school site, as his brother Hayden sprints after him, followed by their panicked mum.

Ms Ekrem said: “I’m screaming for help so my son Hayden, who was being sick, came running out the office and gate to get Harley out of the road.”

She added: “It was horrible because when I looked up I saw two cars passing and I saw Harley go into the road… I thought he was dead and that’s what I live with now constantly – just the fear that I could have lost him that day.

“And I could have lost Hayden as well because Hayden went running out to get him. I could have lost two children that day.”

The mum said she injured her knee and ankle while running after Harley after tripping on the steps outside the school, leaving her kids hysterical.

After submitting a complaint to the school, she felt the issue wasn’t being taken seriously, and hired a solicitor to help with her complaint.

She said: “They tried to say it was an isolated incident and this rarely happens here.”

However, another parent claims she has witnessed a boy running up the road, chased by two staff members, in what she claims was one of a series of similar incidents.

Polly Hutton, 36, claims to be aware of multiple instances of children in her daughter’s class running out of the school during class time. She claims on one occasion she gave two members of staff a lift to help them catch up with a child.

Stacy Katwala, 50, said she also sent her children to Old Bexley and worked as a TA for the SEN department for two years.

She claims the department was “constantly overwhelmed” in her time at the school and lacked proper management and resources. She added that she was aware of an occasion when a certain child escaped the school three times due to their TA being asked to work with another child, leaving them unattended.

In response to Ms Katwala’s claim, an Old Bexley spokesman said: “A written response was sent to Ms Katwala on June 28, 2022. The parents involved were invited to engage with our complaint’s procedure.”

An Old Bexley Church of England spokesman said: “For confidentiality reasons, we are not able to comment on specific details relating to an ongoing matter. However, addressing any concerns raised by our parents is of utmost importance to us.

“Our commitment to maintaining a safe and secure environment for all members of our educational community is unwavering. We take every complaint seriously and handle them in accordance with our comprehensive Complaints Policy. Safeguarding remains our top priority and we work diligently to ensure a strong and focused approach in this regard.”

Pictured top: Gemma Ekrem, 39, said she constantly lives with the fear that her son could have died (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

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