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Posted by: John Brace | 26th March 2014

How did the Lyndale School closure consultation begin?

How did the Lyndale School closure consultation begin?

                                  

Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Childrens Services) talks at a meeting of Wirral Council's Cabinet about deciding to consult on closing Lyndale School (16th January 2014)
Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Childrens Services) talks at a meeting of Wirral Council’s Cabinet about deciding to consult on closing Lyndale School (16th January 2014)


Video footage starts at ends at 1:53 ends at 28:48 (just under 27 minutes)

Next week Wirral Council will start a consultation on closing Lyndale School. I thought it would be useful prior to the consultation to publish a transcript of the Cabinet meeting held back in January where it all started. I will state this caveat though. Some of the things stated at the January Cabinet meeting are now incorrect as Wirral Council withdrew its application to the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee (the minimum funding guarantee guarantees the school gets at least 98.5% of last year’s funding).

Cabinet 16th January 2014
Committee Room 1, Wallasey Town Hall
Agenda Item 14. Report seeking approval to consult on the closure of Lyndale School

This is a link to the Cabinet report titled “Report seeking approval to consult on the closure of Lyndale School”.

Transcript

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Now I’ve been given notice that we have a parent of Lyndale School, Dawn Hughes. Welcome Dawn. So it’s my intention to allow Dawn to address the Cabinet, then I think Julia Hassall (the Director of Children’s Services) will introduce the report and then Tony Smith Cabinet Member will want to make some comments. So that’s the procedure that I intend to adopt. So Dawn, can I invite you to come forward and speak to us. Could you just give us your full name and address first of all before you say anything to us?

DAWN HUGHES
Yeah, it’s Dawn Hughes, 24 ??? Road, Bebington, Wirral.

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Now Dave is just going to switch on the microphone for you, OK. So just take a seat, in your own time just say what you want to say to us.

DAWN HUGHES
Can I ask if these could be passed round?

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Of course, absolutely, yeah, yeah.

DAWN HUGHES
My name is Dawn

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Just take your time, that’s fine, yeah, thank you.

DAWN HUGHES
Hello everyone, my name is Dawn Hughes which you’ve just heard.

My daughter Ellie attends Lyndale School and the disruption that is being proposed is a lot worse than Miss Hassall’s report. It would take me longer than five minutes just to explain my child’s diagnosis and all the ways it affects her daily life.

She is not unusual at Lyndale, this is the level of capacity that the nursing staff deal with every day. But to deal with practical matters first, I want to ask you to show us that you are sincere when you say that you have the needs of our children at the heart of this process by further extending the twelve week consultation and allowing our governors access to resources like Council staff time so that we can explore other options. Then we can take all the time needed to give due weight to this important issue.

Miss Hassall’s report details falling roll numbers at Lyndale, leading to escalating costs with little qualifying information. The truth is that Lyndale has lived under the threat of closure for eight years which leads pre-school services to discourage prospective parents.

Lyndale parents have strongly supported a two to nineteen option for Lyndale for many years so that their very vulnerable children can avoid the unnecessary and cruel distress of transition to an unfamiliar environment and community. This option along with inviting in children from out of area would have increased roll numbers and it is still possible for this to happen if the will is there.

This report says that Lyndale is not financially viable, but the national average spent, the amount on PMLD children is £29,000. That’s against Lyndale’s spend of £33,000, a shortfall of £4,000 per a child and that’s not considering the complexity of needs. Also not a great deal of scope in terms of the local authority budget. This shortfall would be lessened by greater occupancy. The high need of our children means that the cost of education would be the same provided by an alternative school or an alternative.

Our parents feel that the £16,000 top up for PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children is simply not enough to cover their needs and clearly we’re looking at how this figure was arrived at. Is it based on need or cost?

We know national government decisions have made things difficult but the Discretionary Schools Grant is administered locally and it is within your powers to allocate more where there is need. The SEN [special educational needs] Improvement Test legally means that you have to provide as good as or preferably better provision for our children.

The test would have to look at provision in the suggested alternative schools. Miss Hassall has said that Stanley School and Elleray Park are equipped to take Lyndale children but they are already full to bursting. I spoke to both schools recently. Stanley said they had 97 children already against a capacity of 90 and Elleray Park has 92 pupils and only 75 actual places. Where are our children going to fit?

If you plan to extend these schools why not invest that money to continue to provide good quality PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] provision at Lyndale? Stanley School has never in its history had a PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] child so it has no experience in this field. Lyndale parents are very worried about the safety of their children and their needs.

We contemplate the mix of PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] and children with behavioural difficulties. Many of our children are on life support, oxygen, naso-gastric or gastroscomy feeds and should any of this equipment be pulled out it could be fatal within seconds.

Many of our children cannot purposefully moved at all, and should they be bitten or hit, and should they be bitten or hit they cannot defend themselves. It is madness to put these two types of children together.

Lots of our children are hyper-sensitive to noise or some movement for example. For some children noise is unbearable and induces seizures. My own daughter’s hypersensitive and contracts painful muscle spasms which can last for months leaving her unable to sleep, eat or swallow amongst other horrible symptoms. I don’t even have family around at Christmas because Ellie can’t tolerate bustle, how would she cope in a big, noisy school?

The alternative to mixed disability classes would be to segregate our children within a mixed school. The problem here is that in an emergency (such as a child needing resuscitation or having a seizure which happens frequently to many of our children) medical staff would have to navigate their way through keypad locked doors losing valuable seconds which again could prove fatal to our children.

Aside from these very real safety concerns, Stanley and Elleray are not suitable in this way. Lyndale provides a community atmosphere where children can move freely and safely around the school, visiting each other’s classrooms and socialising at lunchtime and other activities. Why should they be locked away for their own safety in a school which is unsuitable for them in the first place?

No one would sensibly suggest putting heart patients and meningitis sufferers on the same ward with the same doctors for the obvious reasons that they require different environments and treatments despite both having the label of “being ill”. In the same way we can’t treat all children that who have got the label of learning disabilities in the same way either.

Autistic and PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children have very different medical, environmental, educational and emotional needs. For example PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children need a stimulating, colourful sensory environment, exactly the opposite of what the type of environment autistic children need.

Parents have asked me to tell you that should Lyndale close, they will either keep their children at home or send them to schools out of area. This will incur a huge cost to the local authority.

The truth is we don’t think that it serves our children’s best interests to move at all. Many people feel our children are “just sitting there” with no consciousness of what happens around them, but I know that when Ellie looks at me with a twinkle in her eye it means she wants to play. I know that when other people see blankness she is in fact concentrating hard. I know when she is in pain or sad or anxious or ill and the staff at Lyndale have taken years to build up the same knowledge – that our children have an inner life as rich as yours or mine despite their inability to communicate it through normal means.

If you force them to move, they will feel the loss of all the people they trust and love and the loss of a placement that they were safe in for years. I ask yourself to put yourselves in their shoes for one minute.

Imagine being completely reliant on others for everything that happens to you and then imagine going to a strange place, where you know no-one and no-one is able to understand you when you try to tell them how you feel. Many of our children could not cope with the upheaval of a move. Change induces anxiety in our children and anxiety significantly worsens their disabilities and illnesses. They then suffer in a way that you would find unimaginable.

I’ve come to accept it with sadness over the years that Ellie will never learn to speak, eat or play independently or be able to take GCSEs. Many of our children don’t even make it to the end of primary school. It is painful for many parents with PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children to be constantly talked at by educationalists about “achievement” and the need to move on.

Ellie is 11 and still likes peek-a-bo. All she needs is a special place where she is happy and she can rely on the consistency and environment and the adults around her. Lyndale allows for the days when the children frequently feel under par and brings therapy or treatment into the classroom.

Lyndale staff know that ill health is part and parcel of our children’s lives and to accommodate this into their individual sensory curriculum. I don’t believe that you can provide that at bigger schools with no PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] experience. I don’t believe you better Lyndale to pass the SEN improvement test, you certainly can’t convince me or the other parents.

I imagine that most of you who have children or grandchildren and that they are the apple of your eye, quite rightly so. Now imagine that you are forced by some authority to send them to a place for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to a place where you know that they will unsafe, unhappy and possibly grossly, maybe fatally misunderstood. How would that feel?

And how much worse must that be for us who care for such fragile children every day? I ask you not as councillors or as administrators, but as parents, grandparents and decent human beings, please do not close our school.

I will extend an invitation to all members of the Cabinet to attend a meeting with our parents and visit our children. Come along and get to know them and see the wonderful work that Lyndale does. Thank you for your attention.

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Thank you for a very clear presentation. Thank you very much.

(applause)

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK, can I now ask Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services) to come and put forward and introduce the report, Julia.

JULIA HASSALL
Thank you Chair. I just want to start by saying I appreciate that what I’m going to say now will sound very cold and factual following on from Dawn’s description of the some of the children at Lyndale and indeed our own report and I just want to acknowledge that before I start my presentation.

From the outset, I think this report is saying that this report is being brought to Cabinet this evening to seek permission to consult on closing the school and it’s not seeking permission to actually close the school.

Meeting the needs of the children is actually central to our concern and we are starting by working in partnership with the school to create an up to date needs assessment for each child. There’s real commitment and I put it to you now that the process is to be very transparent and open.

The report sets out the background and the reasons why it’s felt necessary to consult on closing Lyndale School down. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient places, school places in their area to ensure fair access to educational opportunity to promote the fulfilment of every child’s potential.

To do this any plans must consider the educational benefits for children, value for money and the way schools can develop collaborative practice for the benefit of the children. In this instance the local authority will need to take into account current provision for children with complex learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties at the Lyndale School, Elleray Park and Stanley primary schools, Foxfield and Meadowside secondary schools.

The reasons for considering on consulting on closure of the school are set out in paragraph 2.4 of the report. Closure of the school is being proposed for consideration because the viability of the school is compromised by the small size and falling roll which both contribute to a difficult financial position.

This proposal is not being made to Cabinet because of the quality of educational standards at the school. The most recent OFSTED inspection from November 2012 judged that Lyndale School was a good school and that pupil care and support, behaviour and safety were assessed to be outstanding.

In terms of the falling school roll, by way of background if every available place was taken then the occupancy would be 100%. Over the last seven years, the Lyndale School’s average occupancy has been 59% and there are currently twenty-four children at the school out of a total of forty places.

The size of the school and the numbers of pupils contributes to, as I’ve said previously, a difficult financial position with the likelihood of a deficit of £72,000 without any other action for 2014/15 which is 9% of the school’s budget and the potential for this to increase to £232,000 based on the numbers of children at Lyndale on the school roll.

Just to say a little bit by way of background about the funding reforms. Funding for pupils with special educational needs changed in April last year. The new system is called place plus. This means that the government pays £10,000 for each child that the schools place. In Wirral this year it’s being introduced gradually, but in future with £10,000 paid per a place, with 24 children in a forty place school this could mean a shortfall now of sixteen places or £160,000.

A Cabinet report that we’re presenting later this evening recommends a new approach to high needs top ups of … dependant on the child’s level of needs. This …

The top up now per a child is dependant on the additional needs of the child. It’s set by the local authority in agreement with the special schools and high needs providers on the Wirral who make recommendations to their representatives on the Schools Forum.

The majority of the children at the Lyndale School will receive the maximum top up payment per a child of £16,000 based on their profound and multiple learning difficulties which was described to us so clearly by Dawn.

This is the highest band which applies to all four special schools on Wirral for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. These national funding reforms have brought the Lyndale School provision into sharp focus. One of the difficulties the school faces is in terms of its small size and therefore large unit costs.

Should a decision be taken in the future to close Lyndale School, then the proposal at this stage would be to expand Elleray Park School and Stanley School so that the children with complex learning difficulties including the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties are educated and cared for on the same school site whilst recognising the individual needs of each child. This would not simply be a case of adding children into existing schools. We’re very carefully considering how each school will need to change to fully meet the needs of the children from the Lyndale School.

It’s proposed to expand the numbers of children across both schools up to two hundred and thirty children. Building work at Elleray Park is already planned to address sufficiency and suitability issues and this will be through a one-off capital investment. .. recent OFSTED reports, Elleray Park School was judged to be an outstanding school whilst Stanley School was judged to be a good school with outstanding leadership and partnership.

It’s very important to say that at this stage, the closure of the school appears to be the most viable option after having considered a number of different options attached as appendix two. However if this report is agreed by Cabinet, this will be the start of a lengthy consultation process with parents, staff and stakeholders but all available options will be considered including previously considered options set out in the appendix.

In terms of consultation, if Cabinet agree, then what will follow is a period of twelve weeks consultation after which a further report will be presented to Cabinet detailing the findings of this initial consultation. If the second report recommends the closure of the school and Cabinet agrees, a further formal six week consultation will follow. This is known as a representation period and the final report will .. to before Cabinet. It is only at this stage that a decision to close the school should that be approved can be taken.

My report sets out how a number of meetings with all representative bodies including meetings with parents and carers of … where a number of questions have been raised. The minutes and results of some questions will be sent to all parent carers next week. There is a commitment to work with the school to ensure full up to date needs assessment on each child as soon as possible which will help determine how children’s needs can be met which is very much a sustainable way forward. Should the decision be made tonight to proceed to consultation, a full schedule of consultation events will take place and they’ll be published.

In summary, I want to conclude by saying that considering the closure of a school is difficult and distressing particularly when children have such special needs as the Lyndale School does. It’s clearly important that Lyndale is a place at the centre of our concerns and that the special educational needs assessment improvement test is applied with rigour.

The test requires any future plans to demonstrate our children will maintain the quality of current provision and indeed improve upon it. I recommend that Cabinet agree to consult on closure of the Lyndale School and that I’m authorised to compile and produce the appropriate documentation to start the consultation as soon as is practically possible. Thank you.

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Thanks Julia very much. OK, so I’m now going to ask Tony Smith whose the Cabinet Member for Childrens Services to make some comments.

CLLR TONY SMITH
OK, thanks for that Chair. Thanks very much Dawn for that. Dawn can I first of all say that I certainly will come round with you and meet with the staff and parents at Lyndale and if necessary spend as many days as possible in the school and can I also make this clear? This is a consultation, the officers have already formed a view on Lyndale School and that.

Having worked in that area I do know the concerns of parents and the environment looking at the school at Lyndale and that. I’m also very conscious that it has been an outstanding service to the Authority. You’ve always had good or outstanding OFSTED reports and that and over the last sort of six or seven years the numbers have been falling in the school and that has to be a bit of a problem and that but I do want to make this very, very clear that with regarding how open and transparent the process is.

If you do need any questions answered, if you do need any officer support I will ensure that you know that that is available and you know anyway that will be allowed like that. No options are out at this stage, I’ll make that clear as well. Even if the options are not in the papers that have been put forward, if people have other options then we will certainly listen to those options as well and that.

We are very lucky I have to say in this Authority to have outstanding special schools. It’s not often the case in local authorities that that happens and that. Whether it’s Lyndale or Elleray or Stanley or the other special schools we do really, really well in the Authority. So we do put our children in special educational needs with a high priority and I want to ensure that continues that way.

If there was any change and I don’t know whether there that would be enough … We will listen to the cuts consultation and that we are happy to say that we do have other outstanding schools and that.

So I don’t want to say much more than that really. I will come round into the school with some other Cabinet Members, they need to come round and making sure that happens as well. If you need help and support from the Authority, if you’ve got any question you want to ask or anything you feel you has to go in then we certainly would support that.

I’m happy with the content of the Director’s report. I think it’s been fair. It’s outlined what the pros and what’s happened in the organisation over the last six or seven years and that. The position that we are in at the moment, also the changes that have been brought about nationally and that. We’ll certainly keep an open mind. I think the twelve weeks consultation should give us sufficient time to be able to engage in that process and that but feel free to come back to me at any time if there’s any queries and that if necessary I’ll certainly revisit the school and that but thank you very much on behalf of the Cabinet for that contribution and I will be seeing you …

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK thanks Tony. OK, can I just say a few words. I mean first of all thanks to Dawn for such a clear presentation. I think that was really helpful to hear first hand.

I mean the other thing I want to say you know there’s no question Lyndale is a fantastic school, it provides you know a high quality education for its pupils and nobody would want to take a decision like this lightly. So I think it is important that we allow sufficient time for all options to be properly considered and it is important that we as Cabinet Members and Tony as the Cabinet Member for Childrens Services keep an open mind on all the options.

Appendix 2 of this report there are eight options identified. I know from personal experience when I was Cabinet Member for Childrens Services I know that if other options emerge during the consultation then I think that’s absolutely fine and we need to consider them, but I think you know we need to make sure that the outcome being completely open and transparent process for how we go about looking at this and obviously any help, support, advice, guidance you need… that we can give to help this process and for the parents and governors and the staff and everybody to feel that their voices have been heard and we’re happy to give that help and advice.

So I think the main thing now is in my view is to agree this report. We’re not making any decision tonight about any particular option. We’re just agreeing to consult around those options.

I myself, you know I’ve been down to back into Lyndale before and I’m sure there are other Cabinet Members who will avail themselves of the opportunity to go and have a look at the school and its staff, governors and parents I think that’s absolutely fine. So by the time that we come back to Cabinet with a further report at the end of the consultation period everybody hopefully will be content that we’ve done a proper sort of job making sure that we’ve looked at every possible option and certainly Dawn you’ve spoke tonight with passion about your feelings and we will sort of take those feelings on board.

So I think really that’s all I want to say, I just want to thank Dawn and the other parents and governors for coming here tonight and I want to add my support to Tony for recommendations outlined in the report at paragraph twelve that we agree to consult on the closure of Lyndale School, that the Director of Children’s Services or her nominee be authorised to compile the appropriate consultation documentation and proceed with the consultation exercise as soon as practically possible. Can I ask Cabinet if we can agree to those recommendations?

CABINET
Agreed.

CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK, so we’ve agreed those recommendations. I’d like to again thank everybody who’s coming tonight to hear this report for your attendance and I really do sincerely look forward to the consultation and making sure that everybody is given an opportunity to have their say. So thank you very much for your attendance tonight. OK, I’ll make a pause at that point and allow people who are just here for Lyndale if they want to leave they can do so. So we’ll just have a couple of minutes adjournment.

You may also be interested in What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”.

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Responses

  1. A telling phrase from councillor Smith “the officers have already formed a view on Lyndale School and that.” Mmm.

    • “and that” is certainly Cllr Tony Smith’s catchphrase! However ultimately it’s politicians that’ll make any decision about closure after the consultation is over, not the officers.

  2. […] from yesterday’s transcript of the Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School is a transcript of the first twenty-five minutes of what officers said at the Coordinating […]

  3. […] Committee meeting. The transcript of the Lyndale item at the Cabinet meeting can be found at How did the Lyndale School closure consultation begin?. The Coordinating Committee item on Lyndale School last for about three and a half hours. The first […]


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