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Posted by: John Brace | 28th August 2014

Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on one of 3 options for Lyndale: keep it open, close it or change it to an academy

Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on one of 3 options for Lyndale: keep it open, close it or change it to an academy

 

Phil Ward (Wirral Council's SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June)

Phil Ward (Wirral Council’s SEN Lead) at a later meeting of Wirral Schools Forum 2nd July 2014 (who chaired the consultation meeting at Acre Lane on the 16th June and is referred to in some of the consultation responses)

Well the papers for the special meeting of Wirral Council’s Cabinet to decide on the next steps about Lyndale School have appeared on Wirral Council’s website.

Despite an officer refusing a month ago my Freedom of Information request for the consultation responses on the basis that they would be published (which implies that they would be published as part of the papers for the special Cabinet meeting) the consultation responses (a majority of responses are against closing the school) aren’t included in the papers for the Cabinet meeting.

In an exclusive for this blog I did publish them on Tuesday, but that’s not really the point.

I hate to labour the point, but this is how consultations are “supposed to work”. An idea or policy is proposed, you have a consultation on it, you then publish the consultation responses in an open and transparent way so that the decision makers take them on board.

Not including the consultation responses with the Cabinet papers for the special meeting, gives the impression that officers don’t want material published that would lead to say “awkward questions”. Surely doing consultations isn’t rocket science, surely Wirral Council has run so many consultations they know how to do it by now?

The “bureaucratic machinations” go beyond just this “oversight” of not including the approximately three hundred pages of consultation responses. After all some of those responses are very critical of the way the consultation was actually run.

Let’s take how officers deal with the large petition. This gets a brief mention in appendix 5 on the last page.

I quote “A petition was received in support of Lyndale School containing 10,692 entries, of which 2,580 were duplicates, illegible or un-named, missing or non-existent addresses and 3,178 were resident outside Wirral. The remaining 4,935 entries comprised 702 “written” entries and 4,233 “epetition” entries.”

Last time I checked, Wirral wasn’t its own country with a big twenty-foot wall on the border and rumours of “barbarians” outside Wirral that well, you don’t have to listen to. The school is in Eastham which is on the edge of Wirral! Of course there are going to be people outside of Wirral are going to sign the petition (some of whom will probably live far nearer the school than I do living in Bidston). To callously state or imply that the views of over three thousand people don’t count because they don’t live here, I mean well doesn’t this sum up an attitude that has caused some of the problems and got Wirral nicknamed the “insular peninsula”? Family members of those attending the school could be living outside the Wirral, so could staff or other people closely associated with the school.

Moving on to duplicates, there was a written petition and an e-petition, obviously some people will have signed both versions. As to “illegible or un-named, missing or non-existent addresses”, well (I’m writing this as someone who has in the past gone door to door collecting petition signatures but I’ll point out not this petition) there are many adults in today’s society that couldn’t write their own name and address even if they wanted to (a sad reflection of our education system). It doesn’t mean their views don’t count!

The report goes on to state “Note that the Wirral Council Petition Scheme says a valid e-petition entry requires name, postcode and e-mail address. The e-petition was submitted as part of the consultation with name and postcode but without e-mail address”, so basically what this is saying is that out of 10,692 petition signatures, a Wirral Council officer only classes the 702 on a written petition as “valid” and feels happy enough to just disregard the views of the other ten thousand people.

There is a breakdown of the petition signers by ward, obviously the ward where the school is based Eastham attracts the highest number.

However moving on to the crucial question of what is the actual recommendation of officers as to what to do next (and what’s the result of the independent report into whether the options meet the SEN Improvement Test)?

Well in a U-turn from previous statements about being minded to recommend closure, page 19 states “In January 2014 Cabinet agreed to undertake a consultation on the closure of The Lyndale School, the consultation closed in June 2014. This report recommends that Cabinet considers the contents of this report and makes a decision on this matter.” which probably to most people is a recommendation that is about as clear as mud as to what officers want but at least they’re trying to be impartial.

The reason given is “The Council has a responsibility to manage resources effectively for all schools and the school population. We would like to affirm our continued intention to work positively with the children and families affected by any recommendations, and reassure parents of our continued commitment to their child’s wellbeing and education.”

I will translate these two into plainer English for those not as familiar as myself with “Council speak”:

“In January* politicians decided to ask the public for their views on closing Lyndale School. Consultation with the public happened and finished in June. This report (written from the perspective of officers) tells you what we think happened during that consultation and it’s now time for politicians to make a decision.”

* Note: since January the politicians on the Cabinet have changed as Brian Kenny lost his seat in the May elections to the Green Party and Cllr Harry Smith has also left meaning there are two different Labour councillors taking these places (Cllr Stuart Whittingham and Cllr Bernie Mooney).

“It is about money, but don’t blame us senior officers for all this as we’re trying to put children first.”

So, what’s likely to happen and which of the options have been ruled out as they don’t meet the SEN Improvement Test?

Well this is detailed in the “independent” report.

This report states in section 5.2 “In reality the only viable course of action is Option 7, to close the Lyndale
School and expand Stanley School and Elleray Park School to provide 220/230 places.”

However the report is more detailed than that. Let’s analyse each of the options in detail:

Option 7.1 which are variations on retaining Lyndale

Retain Lyndale and change funding bands

The report states that it is unlikely that the funding bands will be reviewed until after the end of financial year 2014/15, which let’s face it by the time a review and consultation is undertaken on this, Lyndale could’ve been closed down. Even though the banding decision is a political one that politicians could change their minds (if they so wished) on at any time and a final decision on next year’s school budget has yet to be made. The independent report refers to the deficit, but many schools operate with a surplus or a deficit (they don’t get earmarked for closure though). As this is “no change” option, the SEN Improvement Test is met.

Retain Lyndale School and restrict places at Elleray Park and Stanley

The report author seems to be against this option on grounds of parental choice “Restriction of places at either of the schools will restrict parental choice. This may result in appeals by parents to the SEN Tribunal. Restriction of places also goes against Government policy which encourages the expansion of popular schools.”

Retain Lyndale School and extend to full range of CLD

The report author states that if Lyndale School took on children with CLD then these would be children they would receive less money for (per a child) than the children with PMLD which would worsen their financial situation rather than improve it.

Retain Lyndale School and school commits to take full range of CLD. Stanley and Elleray Park admissions kept to place numbers

This option also includes changing the funding bands for children at Lyndale. There aren’t any major quibbles the report author seems to have with this option and quotes statistics (based on July 2014 figures) of Stanley with 100 children and ninety places, Elleray Park has 94 children and 90 places. So both schools are currently oversubscribed based on their places.

It mentions that Stanley School could take as high as 120 children and once the building work at Elleray Park is completed in September 2015, that its capacity will increase to 110.

Option 7.2 Lyndale becomes a 2-19 school

The report author goes into detail as to this option, but points out that it could take about seven years for numbers to reach about fifty. The report author sees this as a “high risk option” as it would require capital investment in the school and run the risk of not working out. Four parts of the SEN Improvement test are quoted as not being met for this option. Although this is an option parents want, it seems highly unlikely this will happen.

7.3 Federate (hard or soft) with another school with Lyndale remaining on current site

There is nobody obvious that Lyndale would federate with and this option is ruled out as not meeting three of SEN Improvement Test requirements.

7.4 Co-locate Lyndale School with another special school (which also covers co-locate and federate with another special school)

As with 7.3 there’s no-one obvious that Lyndale would federate with, this option is looked at in detail and ruled out as not meeting three of the SEN Improvement Test requirements.

7.5 Lyndale becoming an Academy/Free School

Such a decision is for the Department for Education and parents, the report author still thinks that Lyndale will have problems with funding but cannot demonstrate how it would/wouldn’t meet the SEN Improvement Test.

7.6 Close Lyndale School. Open two SLD bases in Primary schools for 6/8 pupils each. Expand
Elleray Park and Stanley schools to 100 each

This has a number of sub options which are

Close Lyndale
Close Lyndale and open SLD bases in two primary schools
Close Lyndale, open SLD places in two primary schools and expand Elleray Park and Stanley to 100 each
Close Lyndale and open a PMLD base on the new Foxfield site

However this is ruled out as it doesn’t meet four of the requirements in the SEN Improvement Test.

7.7 Close Lyndale. Expand Stanley/Elleray Park schools to provide 220/230 places

This option also contains the option “Close Lyndale and expand either Stanley or Elleray Park”.

The report author considers the first option as meeting the SEN Improvement Test (however doesn’t go into much detail). The second option is considered to not meet the SEN Improvement Test because of parental choice grounds.

7.8 Close Lyndale School but retain the site making another school a split site school. The Lyndale site would be retained for as long as felt necessary

The suboptions are “until children currently at the school had left” and “until the receiving school no longer required it”.

This is ruled out as not meeting four of the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test.

So the options Cabinet will be considering next Thursday that aren’t ruled out as they breach the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test (which can be quite subjective but this is based on the report author’s opinion are):

Option 7.1 Retain Lyndale

This is further split into sub options such as retain Lyndale and change funding bands, retain Lyndale School and restrict places at Elleray Park and Stanley, retain Lyndale School and extend to full range of CLD and retain Lyndale School and school commits to take full range of CLD. Stanley and Elleray Park admissions kept to place numbers.

Option 7.5 Lyndale becoming an Academy/Free School

The author can’t say one way or the author as to whether this option breaches any of the requirements of the SEN Improvement Test.

Option 7.7 Close Lyndale. Expand Stanley/Elleray Park schools to provide 220/230 places

This is the option that people associated with Lyndale School don’t want. However if Cabinet chose this option it would trigger a further consultation and a future decision to be made following that consultation.

So therefore the three options that aren’t ruled out by in some way breaching the SEN Improvement Test (according to the report author) are:

1) various options on the theme of keeping Lyndale,
2) the Academy/Free School option (which depends on the Department for Education agreeing to it) or
3) closing Lyndale.

Wirral Council’s Cabinet will meet in Committee Room 1 at Wallasey Town Hall in Brighton Street, Seacombe starting at 6.15pm for a special meeting just to make a decision on Lyndale School (which will be a public meeting).

If you would like to contact the people who will be making the decision, contact details are below (although it is always possible that some of these people will not be able to make it to the meeting, however even if not present at the meeting they are bound by collective responsibility for decisions taken). Please note the addresses below are home addresses in case you want to write to them in advance of the meeting by post.

The papers for this meeting have been published on Wirral Council’s website and the consultation responses can be read here.

Councillor Phil Davies (he chairs the Cabinet meetings) phildavies@wirral.gov.uk/ 0151 625 3320 / 07720 073154 / 16 Westbourne Grove, West Kirby, Wirral, CH48 4DL

Cllr Ann McLachlan (she often chairs Cabinet meetings if Cllr Phil Davies is not available) annmclachlan@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 522 0299 / 27 Danefield Road, Greasby, CH49 3BP

Cllr George Davies georgedavies@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 653 4265 / 07713 644330 / 46 Shamrock Road, Claughton, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 0EQ

Cllr Adrian Jones adrianjones@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 9050 / 10 Elmswood Road, Seacombe, Wallasey, CH44 8DB

Cllr Chris Jones christinejones@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 9050 / 07853 042243 / 10 Elmswood Road, Seacombe, Wallasey, CH44 8DB

Cllr Chris Meaden chrismeaden@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 645 1729 / 07738 824130 / 19 Inglemere Road, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH42 4QL

Cllr Pat Hackett pathackett@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 638 1543 / 07771 972302 / 7 Wood Lane, Wallasey, Wirral, CH45 8QP

Cllr Tony Smith (he is the Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services whose portfolio Lyndale School falls under) tonysmith@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 677 1384 / 27 South Drive, Upton, Wirral, Merseyside, CH49 6LA

Cllr Bernie Mooney berniemooney@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 200 8089 / 07811 060891 / 30 Brompton Avenue, Liscard, Wallasey, Wirral, CH44 0BD

Cllr Stuart Whittingham stuartwhittingham@wirral.gov.uk / 0151 653 5539 / 16 Fender Way, Prenton, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH43 7ZJ

All of the above ten politicians are members of the Labour Party. If you wish to contact one of your three local councillors (assuming that you live on the Wirral) their contact details are here, but it will only be names listed above (assuming they can make it) who will be making the decision at the special Cabinet meeting about Lyndale School.

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Responses

  1. Just to point out something that I perhaps haven’t made entirely clear. If Cabinet decide to opt for closure, the law requires a further (shorter) consultation on the closure of Lyndale School, which will then be reported back to a future Cabinet meeting for a decision.

    So just to make it clear, although the Cabinet on 4th September will decide on an option, it’s just a stage in the process and not a final decision.

  2. This would be the correct way under anything other than normal circumstances, you are quite right Mr Brace, however there are further legal steps that can be taken, as you well know. The DCLG would be the way forward for your Contributors and they know who they are, as under the circumstances they find themselves in, the DCLG would be the ” Complaint ” in their set of circumstances

    • Hi Stephen thanks for your comments.

      I presume you are referring to BIG/ISUS rather than Lyndale?

      DCLG are already investigating whether grant monies previously paid to Wirral Council in relation to BIG/ISUS should be clawed back. To my knowledge their investigations have yet to be concluded so it would be premature to comment further at this stage.

      In relation to Lyndale, yes if the decision resulting from the meeting on the 4th September was not done as it should and there were legal grounds to do so, then the steps that eventually lead to asking a High Court Judge for permission for judicial review of the decision could be taken by those with standing in the matter. As above though, it would be seem to be premature of me to comment in advance of the decision being taken and if a legal case was filed, even though it would only be a civil matter, contempt of court restrictions would apply to reporting it apart from (there’s an exemption in the contempt of court legislation) the public policy aspects.

      I hope that makes it clear!


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