‘Alfreton Park is the perfect environment for our son… Daniel’s social, behavioural and interaction skills have improved immensely.’
When Ian and Rachael Bentley-Richards received the diagnosis on their 18-month old son Daniel, their lives were thrown into doubt, disarray and anxiety. Daniel had cerebral atrophy and developmental delay. ‘We were told he wouldn’t walk or talk,’ recalls Ian. ‘We didn’t know how we would cope and had nowhere to turn.’
Daniel’s diagnosis was followed by two bowel operations; he also suffered a heart attack. However, as Daniel approached school age, Ian and Rachael sensed hope when they arrived at Alfreton Park for a tour.
Aware that Daniel would be lost in mainstream school, his parents started looking at special schools. They chose Alfreton Park after visiting the school. ‘It was immediately apparent that here was a perfect environment for our son,’ observed Ian. ‘We sensed straight away that this was a friendly and supportive school and, just as important, there was a sense of fun. The staff and pupils are one big happy family.’
‘Since starting Alfreton Park, more of our little boy has emerged and his social, behavioural and interaction skills have improved immensely. He goes horse-riding, swims twice a week, goes on day trips and does shopping, cooking and cleaning. Best of all, he is walking and talking. Daniel didn’t know how to express himself. He does now – thanks to Alfreton Park.’
‘Courtney’s communication skills and confidence have come on leaps and bounds. She achieves in every lesson.’
Courtney is a Down’s syndrome youngster who has been visually impaired from the age of five and has ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She also has lax joints, low tone and not a great deal of stamina.
Courtney spent her first three years in mainstream school but it was clearly the wrong environment for her. ‘There was no progress,’ says her mother, Sue. ‘Courtney was isolated.’
Sue and husband Nigel went to look at three special schools. Alfreton Park outshone the other two. ‘When we got here, I was amazed’ says Sue. ‘None of the children seemed distressed; on the contrary, they all looked happy. The vibe from the staff was so positive, too. We chose Alfreton straightaway.’
Courtney’s progress has been remarkable. ‘Her communication skills and confidence have come on leaps and bounds,’ states Sue. ‘She achieves in every lesson, and that’s down to the perception of the staff – they realised that Courtney loves to explore, so she is learning through exploration.’
Outside of class, Courtney gains valuable real life experience. ‘When I was told she would be going regularly into town, I didn’t for a moment think she would be armed with a shopping list and dealing with money,’ reveals Sue; ‘I would have been happy enough knowing she was getting exercise!’
Courtney loves swimming and horse riding and as well as going on trips, she’s been on residential stays in Skegness and even gone abroad. ‘I was anxious at first about her being away but I needn’t have been’ says Sue. ‘I trust the staff implicitly and it’s wonderful that she has got this independence.’
‘Back home, Courtney signs with friends and expresses what she thinks. I do wonder if any of this would have been possible without Alfreton Park.’
‘As soon as we walked through the door, I had this overwhelming feeling of love… Jessie had cried when visiting a few schools; here she was crying tears of happiness.’
Jessie has Dravet Syndrome, a neurological condition causing severe seizures alongside other conditions such as learning disability, ataxia and autism. She also has global developmental delay.
Jessie wasn’t fully diagnosed until she was four by which time she was in a mainstream nursery. She went to infants’ school but her parents Daniel and Rachel could see it wasn’t working: ‘The first year was fine because it was play-based but after that it became apparent that Jessie couldn’t read or write’ reveals Rachel. ‘She had one-to-one tuition but wasn’t engaging with the other pupils. It was time to seek out a special school.’
Alfreton Park was the last of several schools visited. The effect – on both Jessie and her mum – was profound. ‘This may sound melodramatic but it’s true to say that as soon as we walked through the door, I had this overwhelming feeling of love. I don’t think I had ever felt so welcomed. As we walked around, people were making a fuss of both of us. It was amazing. Jessie had cried when visiting a few schools; here she was crying tears of happiness.’
Although Jessie was shy and nervous, her absorption into the Alfreton Park environment was impressively handled, as Rachel explains: ‘At first, Jessie remained in mainstream school so that a teacher from Alfreton Park could come over and spend time with her; and when Jessie started here at Alfreton, her mainstream teaching assistant was invited – and mum and dad were invited, too. It was a slow, smooth and very careful transition.’
For Rachel, Jessie’s first two years have been a revelation: ‘Just seeing Jessie walking down the aisle at the Harvest Festival holding hands with her best friend was more than I could have hoped for. She socialises so well now, helped by the fact that her speech has come on brilliantly, and her imaginative play has gone through the roof. She is also showing signs of wanting to learn. Outside of school, she is more tolerant of other people. She’s also closer to her big brother Thomas – and to both of us. We are a much happier family. That’s all down to Alfreton Park.’