Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Julia Hassall explains why Wirral Council are consulting on closure (Part 1)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Julia Hassall explains why Wirral Council are consulting on closure (Part 1)

Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: Julia Hassall explains why Wirral Council are consulting on closure (Part 1)


The last of the meetings concerning the consultation on closing Lyndale School was held in the hall at Acre Lane Professional Excellence Centre. There to answer questions people had were David Armstrong (Assistant Chief Executive), Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services), Andrew Roberts and Phil Ward (who was chairing the meeting). There was also a sign language interpreter called Sue March, however Phil Ward sent the sign language interpreter away as there was no one present (from the twenty-five or so others present at the start of the meeting) that indicated they needed sign language interpretation.

Labour’s Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services Councillor Tony Smith arrived about five minutes late to the meeting. He sat with the three officers, but didn’t take a part in answering the questions people had.

Julia Hassall said she was “pleased to see so many people” and that there had been some people who had been to all six meetings. She was giving the same introduction at each one, which was drawn from the consultation document (copies of which were available for people at the meeting). She described Lyndale School as a special school in Eastham for children with complex learning disabilities whose viability was compromised by a falling roll and a small number of children.

It was at this point that Councillor Tony Smith arrived.

She repeated a point she had made at a previous meeting, that the consultation on closure was nothing to do with standards of education at the school as the last OFSTED inspection in November 2012 had concluded that the school was good with many outstanding aspects. However in her view Wirral Council needed to get future provision right and in her view two other schools (Elleray Park and Stanley) were able to provide good quality education and care.

Ms Hassall said that the closure proposal was not linked to Wirral Council’s need to save money as any money saved would be used elsewhere, however they were under a duty to make sure there were sufficient school places. She referred to the Children and Young Peoples Plan and the Children and Families Act 2014 c.6. She said that the new legislation would improve the partnership between education and health as the care plan would detail how both education and health would meet the children’s needs in a joined up way.

She referred to the report to the Cabinet meeting of the 16th January when they had agreed to start the consultation and the other options that were being consulted on (she went through the options some of which other than closure were becoming a 2-19 school, federating with another school, co locating with another school, becoming a free school or academy). The full list of options are detailed in an appendix to the Cabinet report. Julia Hassall said that during the consultation all options and any new ones were being considered.

Continuing she told those present that the Cabinet decision of the 16th January had been called in and looked at again by the Coordinating Committee on the 5th February and 27th February. She said that the Coordinating Committee had recommended that the consultation start, which had begun on the 2nd April.

Since the consultation had begun, there had been three meeting in April, two already in June with this meeting being the last of the six. Issues that had been brought up previously were referred to. She said that they had to apply the SEN Improvement Test as any alternative had to be as good as or better than the current provision. Julia Hassall said that they had agreed to engage an independent consultant Lynn Wright (Ed – I am unsure of the exact spelling of this person’s name however this was what it sounded like Julia Hassall said) to offer advice how how they looked at the eight options, any new options and to assess how they applied the SEN Improvement Test. She said that Lynn Wright was not known to the officers prior to this and would produce a separate report with an independent view that would be included when Cabinet decided whether to proceed for a formal proposal.

If Cabinet decided to proceed to the next stage, then there would be a four week statutory representations period and if Cabinet finally approved to close the school it would close at the end of the summer term in 2015 and children at Lyndale would be transferred in September 2015. She wanted to stress that no decision had been made and they would take everybody’s views into account. Ms Hassall referred to someone called Janice who was taking notes on the front row. She continued by saying that small schools could go into financial deficit whereas larger schools had more flexibility and could spend a higher proportion on teaching and meeting children’s needs.

Every January they took a census of pupil numbers. There were 401 children attending nursery with complex learning difficulties and within this 401, sixty-four had profound and multiple learning difficulties. However the number of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties had been similar over the past four years and wasn’t a growing trend. She referred to the number of places at Elleray Park and how through discussions with the school and building work they planned to increase the places there to 110. Stanley School had moved from its former site to a purpose built school and in her view they could add a further five to ten more children there without an extension but could extend it if needed to give sufficient places. She referred to a meeting between the Chief Executive (Graham Burgess) and three parent governors and how there would be a further meeting on Friday (20th June). She then handed over to David Armstrong.

Continues at Lyndale School Consultation Meeting: David Armstrong explains why there’s a consultation and questions begin (Part 2).

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Wirral Council breaches expenditure limit by £741,000 and loses out on over £1 million of funding

English: Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England a...
Wallasey Town Hall, Wirral, England where the Schools Forum will be held. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a report going to Tuesday’s School Forum (Agenda Item 13) Wirral Council admit they breached an expenditure limit by £741,000 in 2012/2013 (which relates to the Children and Young People’s Department, which has democratic accountability through the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Lifelong Learning, Labour Cllr Tony Smith (Upton)).

In addition to this £741,000 needed, a further £333,000 is needed for the “Private Finance Initiative Affordability Gap”, £32,000 needed for “Other” (which is probably a knock on effect of these other changes) and £71,000 extra needed for the Carbon Reduction Budget which brings the grand total required to £1.177 million.

This’ll (assuming the Schools Forum agrees to the change) be made by reducing the Schools Contingency Budget, the Early Years Contingency Budget and the Academy LACSEG central budget.

Basically when a school converts to become an Academy (as some have this year), the new Academy receives what it would before from the Local Authority (in this case Wirral), plus the local authority share of the grant Wirral Council receives from government (this covers the Academy’s costs of things they now have to pay for like assessing eligibility for free school meals, special educational need support services, certain staff costs etc).

However the transfer to the new Academies follows a long process that Wirral Council’s Children and Young People’s Department should have known about at the time of setting the 2012/2013 Schools Budget (earlier this year), which begs the question, why weren’t assumptions that certain schools would become academies factored into the Budget when it was set earlier this year (or is this too much crystal-ball gazing to expect of Wirral Council)?

This means the Indicative Schools Budget will be reduced by 18% to factor in Wirral Council’s overspending and faulty Budget assumptions. Certainly while one expects minor in-year budget adjustments to reflect unforeseen circumstances (usually using reserves set aside for this), these Academy changes have been “on the cards” for some time! If some of Wirral Council’s departments continue to overspend in this fashion (as they have for many years), eventually the cuts in 2013/2014 will have to be more severe, to make up for any 2012/2013 overspend. As we’re already halfway through the 2012/2013 Financial Year, some of that 2012/2013 Budget has already been spent.

P.S. And as if the above wasn’t bad enough Wirral Council lost out on ~£1.6 million of education funding (agenda item 4) because they gave the Department for Education the wrong numbers for Early Years learners, from the report this happened because “this was not identified at the time due to a breakdown in validation checks in Wirral” .