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Posted by: John Brace | 15th October 2014

Isn’t it time Cllr Phil Davies remembered his 2009 U-turn on closure of Ridgeway and did the same now on Lyndale?

Isn’t it time Cllr Phil Davies remembered his 2009 U-turn on closure of Ridgeway and did the same now on Lyndale?

                                                                                      

Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith, Cllr Bernie Mooney and Lyndzay Roberts

Councillor Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) at the Special Cabinet Meeting of 4th September 2014 to discuss Lyndale School L to R Cllr Stuart Whittingham, Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services), Cllr Bernie Mooney and Lyndzay Roberts

I wrote yesterday about “Is Lyndale School under threat just so Wirral Council can provide a further £2 million to a company that already has plenty?” , so I thought today I’d write a little more on the topic.

Last year, Wirral Council wanted to introduce a banding system for the extra costs at special schools. However at the last-minute they withdraw their application to the Secretary of State to do this.

Despite the fact it actually couldn’t be implemented in 2013-14, the policy was agreed by a close 8:7 vote at a call in meeting back in February 2014, so if it gets implemented next year for band 5 children at Wirral Schools the top up element for band 5 children is capped at £16,000 (this is in addition to the £10,000 each school receives per a child).

If however a child with special needs based on the Wirral is at a school outside Wirral or at an independent special school (such as West Kirby Residential School) on the Wirral this £16,000 upper limit at least by my reading of the policy doesn’t apply.

When questioned at the Coordinating Committee meeting on October 2nd 2014 and asked to explain this unfairness, David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive) explained that because independent schools are run as a business, Wirral Council pay more to independent schools because such businesses are run to make a profit.

I used to go to an independent school, called St. Anselm’s College. Between the ages of 12 and 14 the school complained bitterly at people like myself whose places were funded by Wirral Council because we were all told many times that the school got (if memory serves me correct nearly 20 years later so I may be a little rusty on the figure) £100 per a term less than this was actually costing them and this meant in effect they had to cross subsidise the education of people like myself by putting fees up. Across about 35 pupils, this was a deficit of about £10,000 a year at 1992 prices.

The school felt (or maybe influential parents on the board of governors felt) it was unfair to expect the well off parents to subsidise the education of other students and they chose to opt out of the local system becoming grant maintained in the mid 1990s (as grant maintained schools no longer exist it is now called an academy).

In other words even when I was actually a child in the Wirral education system (and too young to vote), I was being made aware of how angry (and let’s face it political) schools got at Wirral Council’s funding formula a whole two decades ago! This may sound awful to write like this but to a lot of large schools, each child at the school meant £x,xxx a year, which meant management trying to balance the books each year veered towards seeing children as a source of income and forgot that people prefer to be treated as people and not a line on a balance sheet. Each year children got old enough to leave, so there was the usual advertising in the local newspapers and open evenings each year to try and persuade parents to pick that particular school for their children.

That is the mistake that I sadly feel politicians and upper management at Wirral Council have made. It is very easy to just see Lyndale School as a line on a balance sheet and that there’s an underspend in the budget for closing schools and try and spend that budget. The debate has sadly got too much about money and dare I write the unthinkable “nobody really understands the full complexities of education funding anyway”?

It’s harder to look at the social fabric of what makes up a school, not just the staff and children at it but its place in the community. To give one example of this there’s the history of a school and the fond place in the hearts of people who no longer have children there but did at one stage. These are not factors that can never truly be measured by accountants at Wirral Council. Unlike other consultations, the consultation responses made to the Lyndale School closure weren’t published by Wirral Council, although you can read them as an exclusive on this blog.

In the recent past there was a move to close Ridgeway High School (a secondary school) here in Birkenhead. Ridgeway was the controversial political issue back then (I even remember speaking on TV about it), there was a large petition of thousands against closure handed in to Wirral Council and a call in meeting held in the Council Chamber which a lot of people associated with the school attended. It was controversial, but in the end in 2009 the Labour/Lib Dem Cabinet did a U-turn and Rock Ferry closed instead. The rest as they say is history.

Back then Cllr Phil Davies was the Cabinet Member for Education and was quoted as saying this about that U-turn in the Liverpool Echo, he said that it was a “pragmatic decision, based on the clear view from Ridgeway that they do not want to be part of these options” and “We are not going to force the school to close and be part of a review which they now no longer wish to be involved in.”

In the interests of balance I will point out the same article has a quote from Cllr Stuart Kelly saying he is “delighted” and this quote from Cllr Jeff Green “The Cabinet really must start thinking things through before making such critical decision on the future for Wirral residents. The anguish and alarm the decision to close Ridgeway created was wholly avoidable by a simple application of common sense, it would also have prevented this subsequent embarrassing climb down.”

Now, five years later when somebody else is Cabinet Member for Education (Cllr Tony Smith) and Cllr Phil Davies is Leader of the Council where have those fine principles of pragmatism that Cllr Phil Davies displayed back in 2009 gone? Where is the politician’s desire to actually represent the views of thousands of people that signed a petition against closure of Lyndale? Try replacing Ridgeway in those quotes with Lyndale and you will get the following two quotes (the kind of words I’m sure plenty of people wish Cllr Phil Davies would actually say):

Cllr Phil Davies that it was a “pragmatic decision, based on the clear view from Lyndale that they do not want to be part of these options” and “We are not going to force the school to close and be part of a review which they now no longer wish to be involved in.”

and Cllr Jeff Green “The Cabinet really must start thinking things through before making such critical decision on the future for Wirral residents. The anguish and alarm the decision to close Lyndale created was wholly avoidable by a simple application of common sense, it would also have prevented this subsequent embarrassing climb down.”

Certainly if those words were said today (and for the sake of everyone involved in this let’s hope something similar is said in the near future!), Cllr Jeff Green’s position would seem to be entirely consistent over time if you compare Ridgeway in 2009 to now. Ridgeway of course is and was back then a much larger school that Lyndale is, so therefore had the clout back then and political influence to make sure it was never closed.

Why does the Cllr Phil Davies of 2014 over Lyndale not display the same sense of pragmatism he showed over Ridgeway in 2009? What’s happened in the last five years? I know U-turns are embarrassing for politicians to make, but he should take a really long, hard look at one of his predecessors as Leader of the Council Cllr Steve Foulkes who refused to U-turn on library closures until the Minister launched a public inquiry and learn the lesson that that it can be disastrous for the Labour Group’s reputation to rely on the “professional” advice of Wirral Council officers and listen to those Wirral Council officers more than the views of many Wirral residents. Aren’t politicians supposed to be there to represent the public in the political process?

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Responses

  1. I wonder how the committee who looked into the closure of Lyndale school could make such a decision without as the papers say even visiting it. How all members. Voted as one to close it. How come not one felt he or she should abstain from the vote or vote against it. It looks to me they were forced to vote to close it. So unless we look into why this happend the school will close

    • Thank you for your comment, a final decision on closure hasn’t been made yet.

      However, the why was discussed at length during the 5 hour call in on October 6th. At that meeting 9 Labour councillors voted to uphold the Labour Cabinet decision, 6 other councillors (Conservative and Lib Dem) wanted Cabinet to reconsider.

      The why is too complicated to put in a comment easily, however it boils down to partly a policy of placing special needs kids in bands and capping band 5 at £16000 (unless it’s out of borough or an independent school) and the numbers of band 5 kids at Lyndale.

      This year the regulations stopped them dropping Lyndale’s budget like a stone, the draft regulations for next year are still being consulted on (closes today at I think 5.00pm).

      If those draft regulations are agreed by Parliament, the minimum funding guarantee for special schools will end in its current form, which means Wirral Council can drop Lyndale’s budget (once they agree a schools funding formula for next year).

      Truth is if Lyndale closes the kids will not get the same level of care at another Wirral special school as they will be funded differently.

      Also Wirral Labour asked the schools budget to find £2.6 million of cuts as they slashed the contribution they used to make. A lot of those cuts have gobbled up the underspends in the special educational needs budgets, underspends which were far in excess of the shortfall at Lyndale School… it took me 2 months just to get the complete Schools PFI contract from Wirral Council which I only received the last pages of this morning!!!


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