Swansea mum Kate McMurdo swapped her teaching career for a law degree at Swansea University so that she could fight a battle over her autistic son’s education. She graduated in December 2019.
Kate and her husband, Alastair had faced a long line of hurdles as they sought to give their son Lewis the support and care he needed, both at home and at school.
“Every day is a battle when you have a disabled child,” said Kate.
“The bureaucracy faced is insurmountable and means that such families are placed at a real disadvantage. I had become so weary of all the fighting and injustice that we faced as a family that it drove me to study law so that I could help my own family and others like ours to realise their rights and to change the disability landscape in Wales and beyond.”
While combining her studies with caring for Lewis and raising her three-year-old daughter Isla, Kate and Alastair battled the Local Education Authority over their son’s schooling.
They wanted Lewis to be somewhere that could care for his complex needs, and eventually won their battle for him to attend the Gwenllian Education Centre in Kidwelly, Swansea, where he is now thriving.
“It was a very nerve-wracking time,” reflected Kate. “I felt it a wholly discriminatory practice - parents of mainstream children are allowed to visit different schools and state a preference. Parents of disabled children should have that right too.
Gwenllian have been absolutely amazing and it was one of the happiest days of my life when I found out Lewis could go there. The school and its staff are the best thing that has ever happened to us. The whole experience has been life-changing.”
Despite his education being secured, Lewis continued to encounter additional health problems and was admitted to hospital on numerous occasions while Kate continued her studies.
She missed three months of university earlier this year when Lewis suffered low oxygen levels.
This meant Kate missed a core exam period and consequently had to sit nine exams in the space of 10 days back in August. She passed every one.
“I was so happy when my tutor told me I had passed all of them,” she said.
Kate would now like to use her expertise to help other families facing similar difficulties.
“It’s about finding somewhere that will nurture and respect a disabled child for the person they are. Currently, schools are so underfunded, this simply isn’t happening, and children are essentially being punished for behaviour linked to their disabilities.
My next step is to try and study for a PhD. I would never have done all of this without the motivation and love I feel as Lewis’s mother which makes me want to make the world a better and safer place for him and others.”