Councillors ask Labour to keep Lyndale School open; Labour defers decision on Lyndale to September Cabinet meeting
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On Monday evening the issue of the future of Lyndale School was debated by Wirral Council councillor for about forty-five minutes. I’m going to try and sum up what was said and decided in a short blog post so inevitably I will be leaving some things out.
The notice of motion by the Conservatives and Labour’s amendment to it is already covered here. The response from the Lyndale parents is here, in addition to that there were a further ninety or so responses to the consultation.
Cllr Paul Hayes (proposing the motion to keep the school open) started by referring to the consultation response by Lyndale parents and the passion and “strength of feeling” he’d observed at a recent consultation meeting (which you can listen to in full). He said he hoped all councillors had received a copy of the consultation response.
The Mayor Cllr Steve Foulkes said that some councillors had received it on the day of the meeting and that he didn’t believe they could be expected to read it in full as they hadn’t had time to digest it.
Cllr Paul Hayes continued by referring to an earlier consultation on Kingsway Primary School and the similarities between the two. He was critical of an officer chairing the Lyndale School closure consultation meeting and said that as well as the majority of people feeling that the officer wasn’t neutral, he also described him as “rude and dismissive”. He described the consultation process as “farcical”.
Cllr Stuart Kelly asked whether Labour’s amendment should be ruled out of order as it was negating the original motion. Labour’s motion deleted all paragraphs in the original motion bar one line. He said surely the same effect could be achieved by voting against the motion?
The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said he would allow a legal opinion, but it had been a difficult decision on his part to allow the notice of motion on Lyndale School to be debated. From his point of view he felt that Cllr Stuart Kelly “didn’t have a leg to stand on” with regards to the [Labour] amendment being ruled out of order.
Surjit Tour said that the notice of motion referred it to the Cabinet as the final decision rested with te Cabinet. The amendment also did exactly the same in referring it to a special meeting in September. Therefore in his view the amendment was lawful.
The Mayor said that points of order was not the way he wanted to open the debate and asked the mover of the amendment to speak.
Cllr Phil Davies said that it had been agreed some time ago that they need to have a special Cabinet meeting and that there had been a very detailed consultation exercise, the results of which they had not yet seen. In his view the consultation responses were a “hugely important piece of evidence” which the Cabinet needed to consider before taking a view. To take the clear view expressed in the Conservative notice of motion before the special Cabinet meeting was “premature” as they would be making the decision now in advance of the special meeting. He was also very concerned that if the notice of motion was agreed then they would fall foul of predetermination. He thought it was a shame that Cllr Hayes had said that officers were not neutral.
He continued by referring to his time as Cabinet Member and again referred to the claim that officers were not neutral. Cllr Davies said that the amendment asked that they take no action on the motion tonight but refer it. Again he said that he was worried if they agreed the motion it would have predetermined the outcome before the Cabinet had considered the evidence, but there was no question that Lyndale School provided a “unique and caring environment”. He had visited the school but it was essential he had an open mind and considered all the evidence. He worried that if they made a decision tonight then they would be completely ignoring important evidence that they had not yet seen.
Cllr Andrew Hodson referred to his daughter who had learning difficulties, despite being in her 30s she had a mental age of nine. He considered himself lucky that she had her full health, but that the children at Lyndale had complicated health needs. Although his daughter lived in an establishment she still had her independence in fact [Cllr] George [Davies] had been at the opening.
He referred to the Corporate Plan about protecting vulnerable people and how Lyndale School was an essential service that met people’s complex needs. The staff at Lyndale were geared up to making sure that while receiving an education the children were safe and well cared for. He was perplexed by the decision as the Council would not benefit financially from the closure of Lyndale School so why do it? He finished by making a plea to keep the school open.
Cllr Phil Gilchrist said that the Childrens and Young People Department had told him they had received ninety response and that he had had time to read the documents. He knew that members of the Council had been concerned about the future especially [former] Councillor Tom Harney. He referred to the document received at the weekend and referred to the reference in it to a working party.
Cllr Gilchrist referred to the space that children using wheelchairs need, children with epilepsy, those require oxygen and those who required time consuming feeding. He had attended two of the consultation meetings and concurred with Cllr Paul Hayes’ description. He referred again to the parents’ response to the consultation quoting from it and that it may be September by the time the issue was resolved. He said that the high needs budget for 2013/14 was £31.7 million.
After being given extra time, he referred to the strain on families, the SEN Improvement Test and said that if they wished, councillors on the Cabinet could choose not to vote on this notice of motion (and amendment). The notice of motion was about Council’s view.
Councillor Dave Mitchell said that the way the process worked was that councillors who stood were indicating that they wished to speak in the debate and that if no Labour councillors stood up then councillors who wished to speak should still be allowed to address the Council. Cllr Chris Blakeley said he had no objections.
The Mayor (Cllr Steve Foulkes) said that if that was an early test, that he would decide what goes on, who was asked and which councillor would make a contribution.
Councillor Dave Mitchell said that he’d pick up on the point made by Cllr Paul Hayes at the start. He too had been surprised at the way the presentation had been presented by officers to the parents and that the parents knew what was required and that the parents were the ones who should be listened to. Cllr Mitchell recommended that councillors read every page of the parent’s response to the consultation and absorb every part as it “rips to shreds” the proposal [to close the school] and deals with the real issue which was the children.
Cllr Mitchell continued by saying that it had nothing to do with the schools formula funding as it was all there set by the government and had never been taken away. This was not the case with education funding and the way the funding was divvied out was decided by Cabinet. One of the problems that concerned him with the consultation itself was the way parents had asked questions to officers and had no responses till the last day of the consultation.
Cllr Pat Williams objected to the Mayor refusing to let her speak. She said she was being deprived of her democratic right and that she’d been elected by the people of Oxton to speak.
The Mayor [Cllr Steve Foulkes] changed his mind and agreed to let her speak after all.
Cllr Pat Williams said that during the consultation period it was made abundantly clear that the appropriate place was to let the children remain at Lyndale School. She referred to the petition against closure of nearly 11,000 signatures which demonstrated how much Lyndale School was valued as a unique asset. She like other councillors referred to the parents response to the consultation and wanted the profound and complex needs of the children fairly reflected in the funding.
She had visited the school and was always most impressed by the caring an dedication of the staff and when she was Mayor had had the pleasure of formally opening the sensory garden. The consultation had ended and it was overwhelming apparent that Lyndale School should stay. She asked councillors to take note and resolve that Lyndale was to remain open.
Councillor Pat Cleary (the new Green Party councillor) said that he wanted to make a brief point. He said that Lyndale School doesn’t have to be closed and he appreciated the sincere feelings. He was disappointed as he didn’t understand the Labour councillors not engaging.
One issue he wanted to raise was that 18 months ago there had been a letter from the Leader of the Council during the What Really Matters consultation about whether local elections should only be held once every four years. It had been said that the reason the proposal was being brought forward was that early analysis of the consultation results had shown 91% supporting this change. In that instance a recommendation had been brought forward before the consultation was finished, he wanted to know why the current situation was any different?
Cllr Tony Smith said that he agreed that the uncertainty about Lyndale School must be resolved and had been an ongoing concern for a number of years. The consultation had been undertaken, but reducing numbers of children on the school roll, changes in funding arrangements and questions about the future viability of the school were the reasons behind the consultation. He stressed that the consultation was not about the quality of the education.
He continued by saying that any decision about future provision would be informed by individual needs and make sure people’s requirements were fully met. The government required the [SEN Improvement] test to be undertaken to show that the proposal was as good as or better than the children’s current provision. He said that they would make sure they had an up to date understanding of each child’s needs.
They had undertaken a consultation and there was oversight from the [Wirral] Schools Forum. The original decision had been called in and it was made clear then at the outset that the process should be open and transparent over the twelve week consultation.
Prior to the consultation starting, there had been a meeting with parent governors of Lyndale and throughout the consultation six public meetings. Eighty-five people from the community had turned up to these, with some attending more than one. Wirral Council had commissioned an independent person to consider each of the published options and any new options and consider the application of the government’s [SEN Improvement] test. All councillors had also been invited on an escorted bus tour which included Lyndale School. Twenty-two councillors had taken part in these visits on the 16th/17th June. He made the assurance that all information relevant to the consultation would be made publicly available prior to the Cabinet meeting to inform the decision making when the Cabinet would be taking all factors into account such as the needs and welfare of each individual child.
Cllr Jeff Green (seconder to the Conservative motion) reminded people that when Cllr Tony Smith spoke that closure is a preferred option. He reminded people why it was called in and referred to the speeches of Cllrs Hayes, Gilchrist, Mitchell and others (as well as congratulating Cllr Cleary on his maiden speech). He said a maiden speech was normally held in silence but the response from Labour councillors was because he’d beaten them in an election.
Cllr Green said that Lyndale was unique and incredibly special and that that needed to be safeguarded.
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