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Posted by: John Brace | 27th March 2014

What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”

What did officers say at the Lyndale School call in? “we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children”

                                      

Councillor Moira McLaughlin asks a question about staffing at Lyndale School (Coordinating Committee, Wirral Council, 27th February 2014)
Councillor Moira McLaughlin asks a question about staffing at Lyndale School (Coordinating Committee, Wirral Council, 27th February 2014)

Julia Hassall (Director of Children Services), Andrew Roberts (Head of Branch and Planning Resources) and David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive) answer questions from councillors on the Lyndale School closure consultation decision

Continuing 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 Committee meeting of the 27th February 2014 that was to reconsider the Cabinet decision. Next week Wirral Council plan to start the consultation on the closure of Lyndale School. The Cabinet report titled “Report seeking approval to consult on the closure of Lyndale School” that this is about can be read on Wirral Council’s website.

CLLR STEVE FOULKES
Back to order. Settle down, I have a rather unfortunate announcement to make. One of our elected Members Councillor Denise Realey has become unwell. I think she’s found the evening stressful as everybody has to be frankly honest and has taken unwell so for the minutes can we have it recorded that Councillor Realey has left the meeting and will take no further part in the decision-making.

OK, with that said, we now move onto the next set of witnesses, these are evidence from the people obviously officers of the Authority. Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services), David Armstrong who is Assistant Chief Executive and Head of Universal Infrastructure Services and Andrew Roberts who is Head of Branch and Planning Resources.

They have up to five minutes to speak to us, for brevity they are not taking that option and will probably be spending more time answering questions from elected Members but Julia, you want to give us the background and the thought processes that ended up in the presentation of the papers to Cabinet and the consequent decision. Thank you.

JULIA HASSALL
OK, thank you Chair and members of the audience. I just wanted to start by saying from a senior officer perspective how much I appreciated hearing what the parents and members of staff said this evening.

I think following that what the three of us will say will sound a bit bureaucratic, a bit clinical and it’s by virtue of the proposals that we need to put forward. I would like to state that all three of us come from a position of valuing the children that we work with and regarding outcomes for children as an absolute priority.

The report that was presented to Cabinet on the 16th January, was seeking approval to consult on the closure of the Lyndale School. The report set out the background, saying that local authorities have a statutory duty to make sure there are sufficient places in their area, there’s fair access to educational opportunity to promote every child’s potential.

The reasons why in the report we’re considering closure of the school is because of the viability of the school is compromised because of its small size and falling roll which both contribute to a difficult financial position and I think as you said Chair earlier, it’s not in any way because of the standard of care and education in the school which is good and in many aspects outstanding.

In terms of the falling roll over the last seven years, the Lyndale School’s average occupancy has been 59% and there are currently twenty-three children at the school out of a total possible forty places. I know the second report that you’re considering call in really focuses on the financial position which is very briefly the size of the school and the numbers of pupils contribute to a difficult financial position with a likely deficit of £72,000 corrective action for 14/15 with the potential for this to increase to be in excess of £232,000 based on the numbers of children currently on the school roll. Part of that is because of changes to the national formula, which Councillor Smith referred to in terms of funding individual places occupied and a reduction from forty funded places to twenty-three because there are twenty-three children with places and also applying the new banded top up system.

Should a decision be taken to close and this would be in the future. I need to keep emphasising that the report that went to Cabinet on the 16th January was seeking permission to consult on potential closure and the report on the 16th January said that at this stage, the two most, the most viable option if or should the school close, was to expand Elleray Park School and Stanley schools so that the children currently at Lyndale School and future children would go to both of those schools.

It certainly would simply not be a case of just adding children into the existing schools. It would require very, very careful planning, consultation and change the very nature of each school by virtue of additional children joining that school, both school’s community.

It’s really important to say that in the most recent OFSTED report Elleray Park School was judged to be outstanding across the board and Stanley School was judged to be a good school with outstanding leadership and management.

One thing I did want to say and in response to possibly some of the points made earlier, it’s really important to state at this stage that the closure of the school appears the most viable option after having considered a number of options which are the eight options that parents referred to. However I have said and I’m very mindful of the fact that the eight options have been considered by local authority officers and I would expect to proceed to consultation that each of those options would be rigorously considered again and there will be other options that come forward that we have not thought of.

So in very general there will be a proper options appraisal looking at each and every option that comes forward. Should Cabinet, the report that went on the 16th actually talked about the next steps. So, should Cabinet agree to consult on whether we should close the school, there would then follow a twelve week consultation process that will involve full consultation meetings, a consultation meeting with the parents, teachers, interested people connected with Lyndale School, Stanley School and Elleray Park School. There would be drop in sessions. We’d do whatever we needed to do to get to the best possible option to move forward.

I think in summary, I would want to conclude just by describing the report that went on the 16th January that by saying considering the closure of the school is difficult and distressing as you’ve heard this evening particularly when children have such special needs and other abilities. It’s really important that their needs are placed at the centre of our concern and that what’s called the special educational needs improvement test is applied with absolute rigour and that’s a test to make sure that whatever we come up with and whatever Cabinet may agree in the future, is as good as or better than the current provision for the children concerned and it was on that basis, taking all those points into account that I recommended to Cabinet on the 16th January that they should agree to consult on closure and that I would proceeded to compile the consultation document. I’m very happy to answer any questions that Members may have or any comments.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Any of the other officers wish to make a statement about the issue? No?

DAVID ARMSTRONG
No.

ANDREW ROBERTS
No.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
No, ok. So, it’s clearly open to. Sorry I’ll use my mike I do apologise. It’s obviously open to questions from Members, I’ve got Moira, Leah and Alan and then I’ll take another three.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN
If it’s alright with you Chair, I’ll combine two of my questions in one go and make it a bit simpler. The first one is, is there capacity for forty children and there’s twenty-three there currently? Has that reduction so far, I mean I don’t quite know how to put this, Steve did allude to it before, if there’s fewer children there I imagine the establishment was reduced to accommodate the children or has the establishment, the staffing establishment I’m talking about not changed even though the numbers have reduced?

ANDREW ROBERTS
What err the staffing establishment reduced I think it was two years ago the funded places reduced from forty-five to forty.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN
Right, and over a period of time the numbers have reduced further what would happen then as there’s attrition, what would happen? How would that be dealt with?

ANDREW ROBERTS
That’s part of our ongoing discussion with the school and about how the budget issues have been, are dealt with.

COUNCILLOR MOIRA MCLAUGHLIN
OK, thank you very much. That’s the first one. The second one is I mean a couple of questions I asked about from Zoe and Rochelle were about confidence in the process at this point. I think, certainly I was dismayed to see the phrase in this report which was consultation on closure and it seemed to me in the first instance that it kind of preempts the outcome and I have been reassured by the Cabinet Member so far, well I’ve heard what the Cabinet Member said, I’m looking for more reassurance that this is a genuine open consultation and that options that are there, eight of them will be considered and the possibility is still there that other options that haven’t been considered to this point may emerge during the process. There’s those and I mean if you can reassure me of or do your best to reassure me that what the second part is how are you going to reassure parents now because they’ve lost a bit of confidence, well lost a lot of confidence in the process?

JULIA HASSALL
OK, by way of reassurance that we will have a very full and open and transparent consultation. I’ll just take a step back, take a step back. The advice I sought prior to embarking on this process was the local authority in these circumstances when we were considering the viability of the school would put forward a proposal to consult on closure. That is what is done, that is how it’s approached.

The intention is to consider every single option, that’s a that’s in the appendix and the eight options that are included there. When I met with the parents prior to Christmas, in a pre consultation meeting I was explaining how we reached a conclusion with a purely internal local authority looking at a number of options which was about us reaching first base to present a report to Cabinet saying that we needed to consult.

The consultation will take account of each and every one of those options, which we will undertake to revisit again and we will genuinely consider every single option that appears that we may not have considered so far.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
OK, I did say I’ve got Leah and Alan. I think those two are … ok, sorry.

DAVID ARMSTRONG
Chair, just to add to that. Just for the benefit of the audience, I’m David Armstrong and Andrew Roberts is sitting to my left.

Just for the benefit of Members, I currently have some duties outside of the department particularly to do with assets and supporting the Chief Exec. I’m here as the Head of Service for the Children’s Department, clearly I have a responsibility about the school budgets and assets and other issues and obviously I have worked here for twenty-four years and know quite a bit about the school from that so clearly that’s why I’m here.

I think that the comments about the language are very fair and people have said the same thing to us when we did the five-year primary review because we have to follow national documentation and national procedures. If we used sort of a more informal process to begin with, a more informal language and then we changed to a very formal process part way through, people with some justification say well you did that to smoke and mirrors, ..ful language whatever.

The language is very cold. The only thing I can say to people is, that clearly if you look at the track record of when we did a very, very lengthy repetitive process of the primary review we brought forward proposals like this and we named the schools for closure and if you look at what we proposed over that period and if you look at the primary school landscape now, the two don’t match because sometimes our proposals were accepted after the consultation period, sometimes we were told to go away and start again and indeed there’s some schools I can think of one school where we proposed closure twice in two successive cycles and the school is still there and functioning normally so I hope, I know it’s difficult for people to believe us, I know the language is very cold but I think the proof is there that the process did work. There was consultation and the outcome was not predetermined. The outcomes were many and varied, at the end of the day we went from a hundred schools to ninety but it was a very different ten schools to the ones that were proposed unfortunately.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
We’ve got Alan and then Leah.

COUNCILLOR ALAN BRIGHOUSE
Thank you for that, thanks Chair. The sort of sustainability of err Lyndale School has been in question for some time as I think we’ve heard tonight. Am I right and I accept what the Chair says, I don’t want to stray into the next part of the call in but is it the change in the Education Funding Agency’s funding arrangements that has actually prompted us into now looking at the school and looking at its viability or would we have done it anyway?

DAVID ARMSTRONG
I think it’s a key issue within the debate. If you take a very brief view. Local management of schools began in 1990, when massively big Council budgets were broken up and delegated to schools quite rightly and power was given to schools to spend that money and clearly I was here when that started.

The primary and secondary debate puts the money through a formula into the schools and what’s happened over the years when we first started we had hundreds of funding factors so some of those, because we didn’t, had a factor that if you had trees on the site you got more money through the formula or if you had a bigger, we had one for a long time where if you had a bigger building you got more money.

What’s happened in primary and secondary mainstream is that the whole thing over the twenty odd years has been streamlined down and streamlined down and streamlined down. You now have a very few factors which are reliant upon deprivation, but primarily pupil numbers.

If you’ve got somebody sitting on the seat you get the money, if you haven’t got somebody sitting on the seat you don’t and there’s a check mechanism the minimum funding guarantee but that’s the hard reality. What’s happened for many years is the special schools sat alongside that, they have a defined budget, a fixed budget but you were allowed to carry on funding by place rather than pupil but what’s happened is as local … of schools has been achieved and it’s not a criticism of the system, it’s where it was always going to end up over a long journey over twenty-five years.

The national changes bring the special sector into line, not quite the same, but they bring them into line with the primary and secondary situation hence this talk of place plus. So for the first time, we cannot fund all of it on the place we have to fund a substantial part of it on the pupil and what I’m doing and Mike and others are is that through the work of the secondary and special heads which is a tight-knit family of eleven, through Pat’s work, through Andrew’s work that family as a group for some time now that they will fund not … they’ll fund forty places even though there are twenty-three children there.

Clearly they do that at the expense of money that would otherwise go through the formula, go through .. with the schools and what we’re nervous of is is that a sustainable long-term position?

We’re also nervous that we’ve been able to decide that locally. Andrew’s been able to take reports to the Schools Forum, Pat’s been able to meet with the other heads, Andrew’s met with the heads, met with the governors and it’s all been ok. From next year we will have to seek an approval from the Education Funding Agency to fund those places. That made Andrew and I deeply nervous because we’ve had some experience of the national Educational Funding Agency where it appeared that when we had a problem the rules mattered more than the children.

We were heartened to meet with the EFA with local officers this week who said that he thought they would be mindful it was the power of, they would agree to but what we see is a local arrangement that we think would be some sort of dereliction of our duties if we didn’t say we don’t think that this is sustainable long-term and we have a changing national picture which for all the right reasons as I’ve … to us is changing that landscape and taking away some of the freedoms we’ve got. So in that context, yes it is a key issue.

COUNCILLOR ALAN BRIGHOUSE
Could I just do a … just to pick up on that the I fully appreciate the direction of travel and where we’re going but ultimately I would like to think that we’re making this decision because we’ve looked at it and we’ve decided that this is because ultimately we are responsible for public funds, that this is the right thing to do. Almost regardless of what the funding arrangements are suggesting because when I read the report it looks as though it’s all driven by the funding arrangements and not by the err by the, I will get to, my question is this.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
You’re clearly straying into the next call in.

COUNCILLOR ALAN BRIGHOUSE
I know I am straying into the next call in, but I just it was because of I do think at the end it’s fundamental to the whole process. I just, what I really wanted, my question is this. Lyndale School is something special, we’ve heard that tonight. Would we as a Council put a price on that specialness?

(applause)

DAVID ARMSTRONG
I agree with you entirely that it’s very special. I came here in 1990 after being a primary school head and I remember going to the Clatterbridge site. I in fact did the bid in my youth to move them from Clatterbridge, the bid that brought in the grant to move the school from Clatterbridge to Lyndale.

I worked through the scheme that amalgamated ??? Juniors to release the site. So yeah it is a very special school but this is where we have a very difficult job to do. Do we just sit on our hands and say nothing and know an informal arrangement that has worked well for a few years, hasn’t got the resilience to carry on or do we come to you and do we say to the Director actually the landscape’s changing nationally, the numbers aren’t rising, we’re funding this place with empty places currently other schools are compliant with that but it’s a tight-knit family of heads that hasn’t had a lot of change. We have to put the issue on the table and say this is where it is. It’s nothing to do with the specialness of the school, the school is a very special place and we’ve all played a part in our little way, a very little way compared to what you’ve heard tonight in making it what it is.

(heckling)

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Can I bring Leah in?

(heckling)

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Sorry I’m bring Leah Fraser in ok, thank you.

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
Thank you I’ve got two questions to Julia Hassall and two for David Armstrong. I don’t mind who answers them. Is that ok to ask all four? Right well I’ll ask them one by one.

I’m asking Julia this but as I say I don’t mind who answers it. I asked Andrew to send me some information via email as you know and that information was the complex learning need pupil numbers between 2004 and 2013 for five schools, Foxfield, Meadowside, Elleray Park, Lyndale and Stanley. Now, going through them in this order, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, I’m just taking them one at a time.

Foxfield in 2004 had a hundred and twenty-seven and last year had a hundred and twenty-four. So they’ve stayed relatively the same. Meadowside seventy-eight, seventy-two, I’ll skip to Stanley eighty-eight ten years later eighty-nine. Elleray Park fifty in 2004, last year they had ninety-one so they’ve almost doubled by fifty percent. Lyndale was forty in 2004 and now it’s twenty-four so basically Lyndale’s halved and Elleray Park’s doubled.

Now also looking at these feel that this errm chart, each school takes children with PMLD so why when numbers are going down in Lyndale have children with PMLD been sent to say Elleray Park? Hasn’t somebody been keeping an eye on this, because it then from what Emma Howlett, was it Emma? Yeah I think it was Emma said that it’s the Council’s statement and it’s the Council that refer to where a child goes to school. So why have the Council allowed the numbers at Lyndale to halve over ten years? That’s my first question.

COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
OK.

JULIA HASSALL
OK, Councillor Fraser, I’ll start but colleagues may want to come into that. The reason why numbers are what they are or changed over a period of time is parental choice.

(heckling)

So I’ve really looked into the issue that parents have raised with me that there’s been a subtext of diverting parents from one school to another and I’ve asked colleagues, I’ve researched how the statementing process works and the response I’ve received and I’ve looked at our admissions booklets and there is a very clear process set out and over a period of time these are choices that parents have made as part of the overall statementing process.

At this point in time, there are as you know three primary schools for children with complex learning difficulties, Stanley, Elleray Park and Lyndale. About a year ago an HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) was commissioned by the local authority to look at where the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties were being educated and they looked at the children who are being, there are some children with PMLD that are educated at Elleray Park School and with the larger number of children at the Lyndale School and they formed a view that individual Eric Craven formed a view that both settings could appropriately care for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Stanley School has focused more on children on the autistic spectrum and currently don’t have children with profound and multiple learning difficulty but the view was both Elleray Park at that point and Lyndale could care for children with profound and complex needs and it was parents making choices about where there, which school their child attended.

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
Thanks for that, just to follow up from that, Emma did say that she was only offered one school and there wasn’t a ??? . So you can’t chose something if you don’t know about it. If you’re not told about a school, you can’t actually choose it.

(applause)

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
My second question..

JULIA HASSALL
Errm, Councillor Fraser, just

COUNCILLOR LEAH FRASER
Oh right sorry.

JULIA HASSALL
Sorry, just very briefly on that the three….

Continues at What did officers say about Lyndale School in reply to “how much money you would expect to get if you sold that land?”.

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