A seven-year-old boy with severe autism managed to walk out of his school unseen yesterday – despite being under one-to-one supervision.
An urgent investigation is now underway at Devonshire Primary Academy to find out how Caden Shaw, whose autism means he can’t talk and is still in nappies, was able to wander the streets outside alone for up to 45 minutes.
The youngster’s angry parents have demanded answers from teachers and say their son will be not be returning to the Devonshire Road school, which told parents about the incident in a letter sent home yesterday.
“Anything could have happened to him,” his mum Charlotte said. “He could have been hit by a car, he could have been severely hurt, or dead, or even abducted. My baby boy was all alone.”
Charlotte, 28, of The Sawmills, said she was called by school staff shortly after 10am and told Caden had been gone for 45 minutes.
Police told The Gazette officers were called at 9.50am by staff at Talbot and Brunswick Children’s Centre, in Gorton Street, after Caden was found – wearing a ‘silver sparkly suit’ over his uniform – by a worker there. A town hall official said he was found close to the school by the worker who took him to the children’s centre, which then called the school.
The school sent a member of staff to collect him, she added. Mum-of-five Charlotte, whose daughters Faith, nine, and Freya, five, also have autism, said: “I was taking my two-year-old son Corey to [play centre] Thingamajigz in Poulton when my phone rang.
“I was shaking. I had to stop the car and gather myself before The woman who found him said she had pulled him out of the road. He was almost hit by a car.
“He doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. He’s in his own little bubble and he does not understand how much the school has let him down.
“But my husband and I are devastated. I never thought this would happen. My son is supposed to have one-to-one supervision.”
Nick Toyne, headteacher of Devonshire Primary Academy, said: “Unfortunately, due to a lapse in our classroom routines, a door was left open and a pupil was able to leave the premises.
“The child was found a short while later and returned to school safely and unharmed.
“As a school we take the safeguarding of all our pupils extremely seriously and I am mortified that this has happened.
“A full investigation is taking place and procedures have already been reviewed and changed to ensure that this mistake will not happen again.
“We are also liaising with the safeguarding team at the council.”
Caden, who has a mental age of three, was already due to start at Woodlands School in Whitegate Drive, which caters for youngsters with additional needs, in the near future.
But Charlotte, who also lives with husband James, 24, and 16-week-old Cami, said she now hopes the process can be accelerated.
“He is not going back [to Devonshire],” she added. “They can fine me or do what they want, I don’t care.
“They were not doing their job.”
And James, who is Caden’s step-dad, said: “I feel sick to my stomach with the thought of what could have happened to him. I am shaking with rage.”
Ofsted, which schools are required to notify in safeguarding incidents like this, said it does ‘not confirm or comment on any complaints received’.
It added: “However, we treat all complaints seriously and consider them as quickly as possible.”
When it was last inspected Devonshire in 2015, the education watchdog said the school needed to improve, but said after a later follow up visit ‘senior leaders and governors are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement’.
In October 2015, Ofsted launched an investigation at Squirrels Day Care Centre in Toronto Avenue, Bispham, after a two-year-old walked out of an open door.
He was found 200 metres away close to the busy junction of Collins Avenue and Bispham Road by a passing motorist, who told police she almost knocked him over.
The nursery later described the incident as a ‘one off’ and took several measures to avoid a repeat.