An autistic teenager’s dreams of going to college were saved last night after an 11th hour U-turn by council chiefs.
Tristram Coley had been promised a taxi to and from lectures – but his family were left stunned when they were told at the last minute the plan had been scrapped.
But yesterday – following an intervention by the Press and Journal – they were informed the 16-year-old would be picked up from his home and dropped off at the North East Scotland College (NESCOL) campus in Fraserburgh.
The college and Aberdeenshire Council had reached an agreement on the funding of Tristram’s travel costs from his family’s smallholding at Tyrie.
But the agreement collapsed, leaving the teenager and his parents in limbo.
The local authority had paid for his transport to Westfield Special School in Fraserburgh, and has now agreed to foot the bill for taxis to take him on the nine-mile round-trip to and from college.
It is understood it would have cost his family about £20 a day to get him to lectures.
They welcomed the local authority’s change of heart was welcomed last night, but Tristram’s stepdad Michael criticised the confusion.
Mr Coley – who is full-time carer for his wife Christine, who has ME, and his stepson, said last night: “They’ve had six months to sort this out.
“They could have saved a lot of hassle, heartache and a weekend of sleepless nights on our parts if they had got it right earlier.
Tristram was born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition which affects social interaction, communication and behaviour, and he was unable to speak until he was seven.
The Coley family do not have a car and Tristram previously used a contract taxi service to travel to and from Westfield school each day.
After discussions with the council’s community support team in Fraserburgh, they were delighted to learn that Tristram’s travel arrangements had been continued for his move to the Fraserburgh college campus for a Towards Employment Supported Learning course.
But his college education was left in doubt when the plug was pulled on the taxi scheme.
Mr Coley said: “He simply wouldn’t have been able to go. They were asking a boy to get the bus who was not capable of crossing the road on his own safely.
“Going to college is a big step in some ways, but it was absolutely crucial he went so he could continue his traditional education in literature and numeracy.
“He can read, write and talk, but has limited understanding. He couldn’t talk until he was six or seven so every day he speaks is a bonus.”
Mr Coley, a former civil servant and council worker, said he was frustrated he had to make a fuss to help his son.
He said: “There was a lack of thought about individuals – it was mostly down to funding and budgets.
“But we wouldn’t have let it stand. We would have taken it to the courts if we’d had to.
“The Press and Journal asking the questions couldn’t have hurt either. We’re very grateful you could help.
“Tristram is at college now and he is delighted. It’s like all his Christmases and birthday’s have come at once.”
Last night, a spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council confirmed Tristram’s travel arrangements.
He said: “Following discussions Aberdeenshire Council has agreed to meet the transport costs of clients so they can attend college.
“We are working together with NESCOL to ensure that young people are able to access and get the most out of their college course.”
He added that the decision would help five young people, including Tristram.
NESCOL’s deputy principal, Paul Sherrington, said: “We are aware that a student is not happy with the travel arrangements for the current academic session.
“The college is working with him and our partner organisations to resolve the situation.”
Fraserburgh and District SNP councillor Charles Buchan, a member of the local authority’s education committee and a former teacher, said: “I’m very pleased the young man has been successful and I wish him very well with his studies.
“Nowadays having good training, such as you get at North East Scotland College, is vital to a future career.”