Once the new Mayor of Wirral Council Councillor Steve Foulkes returned and he made his declaration of acceptance of office, he made a speech the first part of which is below.
MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
Right, I’ll probably use the microphone. OK, I’m awful sorry, hang on, I’m doing that. Please be seated. It works!
Well I’d just like to say that there are many, many councillors and this is a tribute to former Mayors particularly Gerry Ellis who’s given me this opening gambit which was when some councillors suggested that I end up in something long and flowing, some meant the River Mersey and not the Mayor’s robes and that’s my tribute to Gerry, to Gerry’s.
Before I do make my acceptance speech though, I think I must place on record my gratitude and thanks to Dave and Sue for the friendship that they’ve given me in the last thirteen months, the guidance and just the thoroughly fantastic job they have done on behalf of the people of Wirral. They’ve been an absolute credit to themselves and the Borough so let’s hear it for them.
It would be a really hard act to follow, but I think you’ve earned a good long rest, so have a good rest and a good holiday and enjoy. I’ll also pass on my condolences to Kate Wood’s family and I will be attending Kate’s funeral on Wednesday, a sad way to start the evening however.
I will accept the office and I’d have loved a unanimous vote and I’ve accepted office on a majority vote and I’ve lost office, quite sadly at times, on a majority vote. So I will be accepting the office tonight.
I’d like to thank my group, my leader Phil for the nomination and a fantastic speech he gave, if not a little too revealing about my former name as Mad Max. That won’t go down very well, but we’d asked for an in depth interview and we got one, so thank you very much.
I’d really like to place on record now while I’ve got the chance is my employer Unilever. They’ve been very supportive of me over a number of years as a politician. As a community minded company they have been really supportive and I have to place on record thanks to them.
I’d like to say a special thanks, this is the second time George gets a mention tonight. I came into politics as George’s agent when we won Claughton and he’s been a real close friend ever since. In fact I refer to him as my other brother sometimes and we’ve been that close at times and he’s been a stalwart. My other ward colleague Denise Roberts, who has really been great and supportive to us and more importantly and that’s what it’s all about is the people of Claughton who have voted for me on a regular basis and have returned me to office over twenty-four years. I’d like to thank them.
So what a really great venue for this what to me is a very special occasion of course but it is a special occasion for the people of Wirral. A great venue and a new look New Brighton. This is at the heart of New Brighton and a development that was done and developed and delivered in the teeth of a recession and I think it just shows what Wirral people can do, what Wirral Council can do if it is of one mind, if it has a vision, if it has a cause. Just go out there tonight if you get a chance, in the early evening and see how much we’ve achieved in those circumstances bringing new life and new jobs I hope we can do more of that in future.
Actually we were quite lucky to get in here tonight. I don’t know whether you noticed the sign or not on the way in, clairvoyant’s evening cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. I don’t know whether anybody spotted that on their way in. You’ve heard a little bit about my background and you know it is character building and I do hope when we get out there and talk to people I will describe how poor we were. We were poor and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact we were so poor that all our clothes had to be bought from the Army and Navy surplus store. You know it’s tough, you try going to school dressed as a Japanese Rear Admiral.
I can tell you it’s not easy and there was a big family you know, we had to scrap over food and things like that and actually my real name should’ve been Tuesday because when I was born Dad looked at Mum and said ‘let’s call it a day love’. Actually Elaine jokes because I haven’t got a middle name. Elaine jokes and says you know by the time I was born she’d run out of names so they couldn’t give me a middle name.
Well as Phil said, our council house which I’m always grateful for, a little bit crowded but loving and this is where I go a bit errm. Not a day passes really you know I don’t think about my Mum and Dad, Eric and Gladys and I just hope that they are really, really proud of what I’ve achieved and what I’ve done today and I miss them. Not a day goes by without a thought for them but that’s my emotional bit over with I suppose.
Right, my Mayoress, my Mayoress will be my beautiful fiancee Elaine who I love dearly and dearly being the operative word because the cost of her last outfit I tell you! It’s utterly amazing but a few years for me have been tough, there’s no doubt about it, politically you put your head above the parapet, times get tough and it has felt like I’ve been besieged at times and I actually don’t think I could have coped with those tough years without Elaine by my side and I thank her very much for that.
Elaine’s a hard working mum, with two lovely children Jack and Molly, you’ve seen Molly already, who have become my best mates during difficult times. They’ve shown maturity in themselves and a friendship to me that is a credit to them and should be an example to everybody in this room. I’ve got to give Jack a special mention, he’s chomping at the bit to go because he’s got two A-levels tomorrow and he really wants to get on and revise. He’s taken time out and good luck tomorrow mate with everything and those exams.
If you haven’t heard, if you haven’t heard, it’s open news now. Me and Elaine have named a date. We’re going to get married on August 17th 2015, ok? I’m sorry Councillor Blakeley, but the best man’s job has already been allocated. So after our Mayoral year, we will be married and what an exciting year it promises to be. The return of the Open and the International Business Festival just for two as an example of this Borough with a real chance, a real opportunity to promote itself and put its best foot forward.
Mayors are supposed to sort of pick themes. I’ve had a little think about what we should be doing. So as Mayor I’ve selected one theme which is ‘Wirral a place to do business’. We can’t latch on to the Golf Open and all the other investment that’s going on. At last we will see some work taking place on the Twelve Quays site. If this is not the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to entice new business into the Borough I don’t know what it is, so the Mayor’s Office, including the Deputy we will be there, ready, willing and able to meet, greet, do whatever is necessary to entice businesses into this Borough. That’s a pledge I will make as part of the year.
The other sort of theme is ‘councillors count’ and what does that mean? Some can’t count, but councillors count, in a, I know when we had the electronic voting we certainly couldn’t count but I remember, I’ve always thought that no one ever speaks up for councillors. You know they’re misunderstood, maligned, not really appreciated what they’re doing. Having been in virtually every role that it’s possible to be as a councillor, I do actually think we need someone to just champion them and all it will be as part of the theme of the year is explaining the role, the job they do. Don’t forget what councillors have, they have an electoral mandate which very few people have. They are actually able to speak with authority for the very diverse communities we have on the Borough. So I will be championing the role of councillor as best as I can during that year and the last theme is a very simple one it’s just about saying thank you.
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COUNCILLOR PHIL DAVIES
Mr Mayor, yes, I move that Councillor Steve Foulkes be elected Civic Mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral and Mr Mayor, I’m delighted to be here at this wonderful venue to propose Steve Foulkes for the office of Mayor because he is someone that has come from a very humble background to become as he will tonight the first citizen of the Borough and I believe Steve will set an example to all those who aspire to get on in life whatever their standing.
Steve was born in a council house in Upper Brassey Street in the North End of Birkenhead in 1958. He was the youngest of eight children. Steve came from a poor but loving household. His father was a postman, according to Steve although it didn’t pay well it was better than walking the streets and his mother, his mother was a housewife.
Times were hard, Steve says the family could never afford to go on holiday and he remembers the time that his mum had to put his dad’s overcoat into the pawnbrokers to get money to feed the family.
After attending Laird Street Primary School, Steve went to Grange Secondary Modern, which then became Birkenhead Institute. Steve tells me he’s never forgiven his ward colleague Councillor George Davies, because it was George as Chair of the Housing Committee who made the decision to demolish the BI to make way for new housing on this site.
At Birkenhead Institute Steve experienced the first hand benefits of a good comprehensive education, emerging with nine good O’levels as they were then in 1974. Steve then decided to enter the world of work and it’s interesting to contrast the prospects for young people leaving school had in 1974 compared with now because Steve tells me that within a relatively short period of time he had no less than twenty-two job interviews lined up.
He took the first job he was offered which was quality control technician at Spillers Foods on the dock road. From there he went to work at Prices or Uniqema Chemicals as they were later known and in 1983 he started work with Unilver Research where he been ever since occupying various technical roles producing fabric conditioners, soaps and other personal care products.
Politics has been an interest of Steve’s for many years. Steve remembers chasing after people with tannoys during election campaigns when he was a boy. Steve has been a member of the trade union USDAW for thirty-five years and joined the Labour Party when he was just twenty-one. A large part of Steve’s motivation for becoming involved in politics has been a passion to help people from poorer communities like the one he grew up in, to overcome the many barriers they face to achieve their dreams and ambitions.
Steve was elected to Wirral Council in 1990 and has represented Claughton ward ever since then. He’s occupied many roles including Leader, Deputy Leader, Chief Whip and has served on numerous committees including the Police Authority, Waste Authority, he was Chair of the Planning Committee, he’s been Vice-Chair of the Social Services Committee and Chair of Personnel. Steve is currently a member of Merseytravel and a director of Magenta Living housing association.
Steve’s had many interests, various interests besides politics. He tells me he was a keen boy scout and appeared in a Gang Show in 1970 at Gladstone Hall in 1970 where he played Cleopatra, his first stage role. He remembers his opening line in that production to this day and that was “Bless me, it’s Mr. Whippy” as a man with a whip passed in front on him. I’m told he’s been waiting for a chance to deliver this line ever since, but I’m not sure the mayoralty is the best setting Steve for this line.
Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got in for me!”
Steve was also a keen amateur footballer, he was a mean left back and his nickname was Mad Max as he used to take no prisoners when going in for tackles. In the late 1980s Steve went on to manage an amateur team, Heather Brow, who played in Wirral’s Sunday League and in the three years he was a manager the team won a league and cup double. As he enters his mayoral year I know Steve is hoping for similar success will come to his other great football love Everton FC and as Evertonians we live in hope.
Finally I must mention Steve’s other great, I hesistate to call them talents. The first is his absolutely encyclopaedic memory for extremely bad jokes. I was going to reel some of them off tonight, then I suddenly realised probably most of his speech is made up of his jokes so I’d probably better not.
He’s also got two other, I was his deputy for twelve years so I know these things, he’s got two other very unique talents which not many people know about. One is the ablity to play the tune popcorn on his teeth, with a pen or pencil and he does an uncanny impression of the noise of the submarine in the 1960s series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I’m not sure Steve whether these skills will come in handy in your mayoral year but we’ll have to watch this space. So Mr. Mayor in closing I am proud to call Steve a friend, as well as a colleague. The Steve Foulkes I know is a kind and considerate person.
He has given twenty-four years of loyal service to Wirral Council. He’s been through some difficult times personally but he’s always maintained a sense of humour and his determination to do his absolute best to improve the lives of the people he represents and particularly those less fortunate than himself.
Mr Mayor, Steve and his consort Elaine are an excellent team and I know they will be fantastic ambassadors for Wirral and all of our residents. So, Mr Mayor it gives me great pleasure to move that Councillor Steve Foulkes be elected Civic Mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of the Wirral. Thank you.
MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR DAVE MITCHELL
Thank you, is there a seconder for this?
COUNCILLOR PHIL GILCHRIST
Thank you Mr Mayor. I rise to undertake that role this evening. Having regard to the duties and functions of the Mayor as set out in the constitution and I’m confident that as it’s set out where the Mayor will allow different opinions to be fully and fairly presented and debated, then I look forward to that being carried out this year in that spirit.
MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR DAVE MITCHELL
Excellent, are there any other nominations? No? Then we’ll go to the vote. All those in favour please show. All those against. Sorry apologies, start again. Please I was too quick for our attendants. All those in favour please show. OK. All those against. Any abstentions? Thank you. That is clearly passed. Congratulations. I call on Councillor Foulkes.
For example this quote from that report refers to the budget that goes towards special schools such as Lyndale School (which Wirral Council is currently consulting on the closure of):
“2.12 Special Education Needs Transition Reserve £0.3m under spend The 2013-14 budget is £8.3m, of which £8.0m has been committed, including the costs to fund the High Needs MFG in 2014-15 of £330,000.” and there are other underspends in the special educational needs budget too, a half a million pounds underspend on special educational needs statementing costs for schools and early years (detailed at 2.13), a £400,000 underspend in support for special educational needs (detailed at 2.15) and a £200,000 underspend on the independent special schools budget. In total this comes to an underspend of £1.4 million across the special educational needs budget, when Wirral Council are consulting on closing Lyndale School (according to their consultation document) over a predicted shortfall of £12,313 last year and £19,000 this year.
Part of the reason for the predicted shortfall of £12,313 is because when the 2013-14 schools budget was agreed (first by the Wirral Schools Forum, then by Cabinet, then by Council) a high needs contingency in the special schools budget was set of £880,000, which as the report states there is a £300,000 underspend of this reserve it was set too high. If this reserve had instead been set a little more realistically and let’s just say for sake of argument the £300,000 divided equally between the eleven special schools on the Wirral, each school would’ve received an extra £27,272 which would’ve meant that there was no deficit at Lyndale School last year and that the deficit this year would be extremely small (~£4,000).
Despite these large underspends in the special educational needs budget of £1.4 million, overspends and underspends elsewhere in the education budget and a contribution of £600,000 to reserves reduces the total underspend to £384,000.
You may well ask what reserve is £600,000 needed for that had been previously allocated for special educational needs? This report on School Private Finance Initiative (PFI) Costs explains the need for a £600,000 reserve. Thirteen years ago a private finance agreement was agreed to by Wirral Council for the rebuild/refurbishment of one primary and eight secondary schools on the Wirral. Variations to the agreement were then agreed for the construction of two City Learning Centres. This PFI contract was originally for 25 years, but then extended for a further two years in 2004.
Wirral Council pay amounts to Wirral School Services Limited for the PFI costs according to the contract signed. The annual cost this year will be £11 million, which is offset by a government grant of £5.5 million a year. The PFI schools pay their share of the PFI facilities management support services costs which comes to £3 million a year. However this still leaves £2.5 million.
Officers are proposing that £600,000 of the underspend (money that was originally allocated for special educational needs) should be put towards PFI costs. The rest will be have to be found from permanent savings in the Schools Budget.
So who was Cabinet Member for Children’s Services when the PFI agreement was agreed in 2004, that may result in money that was agreed for the education of children with special educational needs being diverted into the profits of a private company? The Cabinet Member for Childrens Services from 2000 to 2009 was Councillor Phil Davies, the current Leader of Wirral Council.
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A notice was not published five days before the decision detailing agreement of the chair of the relevant policy and performance committee that it was an urgent decision and could not be reasonably deferred (see Regulation 10 (General Exception).
A notice wasn’t published claiming special urgency and detailing agreement of either the chair of the relevant policy and performance committee, Mayor or Deputy Mayor that it was urgent and couldn’t be reasonably deferred (see Regulation 11 (Cases of special urgency).
It’s a legal requirement that an annual report (see Regulation 19) is brought by the Leader to a meeting of all Wirral Council councillors about decisions where a case of special urgency is used since the last report. Despite this being a legal requirement since the 10th September 2012, to my recollection no such report has ever been brought to a Council meeting.
Councillor Phil Davies’s decision could still be called in by councillors as a call-in deadline of 24th April 2014 has not yet passed. The reason for the urgency was given as “to allow the OJEU Competitive Dialogue process to be finalised and a preferred developer for the Hoylake Golf Resort project to be selected and announced prior to the Open Golf Championship at Royal Liverpool in July 2014.” At least one Conservative councillor has previously asked at a public meeting about when the public will be consulted on Wirral Council’s Hoylake Golf Resort plans.
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Video footage starts at ends at 1:53 ends at 28:48 (just under 27 minutes)
Next week Wirral Council will start a consultation on closing Lyndale School. I thought it would be useful prior to the consultation to publish a transcript of the Cabinet meeting held back in January where it all started. I will state this caveat though. Some of the things stated at the January Cabinet meeting are now incorrect as Wirral Council withdrew its application to the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from the minimum funding guarantee (the minimum funding guarantee guarantees the school gets at least 98.5% of last year’s funding).
Cabinet 16th January 2014 Committee Room 1, Wallasey Town Hall Agenda Item 14. Report seeking approval to consult on the closure of Lyndale School
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Now I’ve been given notice that we have a parent of Lyndale School, Dawn Hughes. Welcome Dawn. So it’s my intention to allow Dawn to address the Cabinet, then I think Julia Hassall (the Director of Children’s Services) will introduce the report and then Tony Smith Cabinet Member will want to make some comments. So that’s the procedure that I intend to adopt. So Dawn, can I invite you to come forward and speak to us. Could you just give us your full name and address first of all before you say anything to us?
Yeah, it’s Dawn Hughes, 24 ??? Road, Bebington, Wirral.
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Now Dave is just going to switch on the microphone for you, OK. So just take a seat, in your own time just say what you want to say to us.
Can I ask if these could be passed round?
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Of course, absolutely, yeah, yeah.
My name is Dawn
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Just take your time, that’s fine, yeah, thank you.
Hello everyone, my name is Dawn Hughes which you’ve just heard.
My daughter Ellie attends Lyndale School and the disruption that is being proposed is a lot worse than Miss Hassall’s report. It would take me longer than five minutes just to explain my child’s diagnosis and all the ways it affects her daily life.
She is not unusual at Lyndale, this is the level of capacity that the nursing staff deal with every day. But to deal with practical matters first, I want to ask you to show us that you are sincere when you say that you have the needs of our children at the heart of this process by further extending the twelve week consultation and allowing our governors access to resources like Council staff time so that we can explore other options. Then we can take all the time needed to give due weight to this important issue.
Miss Hassall’s report details falling roll numbers at Lyndale, leading to escalating costs with little qualifying information. The truth is that Lyndale has lived under the threat of closure for eight years which leads pre-school services to discourage prospective parents.
Lyndale parents have strongly supported a two to nineteen option for Lyndale for many years so that their very vulnerable children can avoid the unnecessary and cruel distress of transition to an unfamiliar environment and community. This option along with inviting in children from out of area would have increased roll numbers and it is still possible for this to happen if the will is there.
This report says that Lyndale is not financially viable, but the national average spent, the amount on PMLD children is £29,000. That’s against Lyndale’s spend of £33,000, a shortfall of £4,000 per a child and that’s not considering the complexity of needs. Also not a great deal of scope in terms of the local authority budget. This shortfall would be lessened by greater occupancy. The high need of our children means that the cost of education would be the same provided by an alternative school or an alternative.
Our parents feel that the £16,000 top up for PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children is simply not enough to cover their needs and clearly we’re looking at how this figure was arrived at. Is it based on need or cost?
We know national government decisions have made things difficult but the Discretionary Schools Grant is administered locally and it is within your powers to allocate more where there is need. The SEN [special educational needs] Improvement Test legally means that you have to provide as good as or preferably better provision for our children.
The test would have to look at provision in the suggested alternative schools. Miss Hassall has said that Stanley School and Elleray Park are equipped to take Lyndale children but they are already full to bursting. I spoke to both schools recently. Stanley said they had 97 children already against a capacity of 90 and Elleray Park has 92 pupils and only 75 actual places. Where are our children going to fit?
If you plan to extend these schools why not invest that money to continue to provide good quality PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] provision at Lyndale? Stanley School has never in its history had a PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] child so it has no experience in this field. Lyndale parents are very worried about the safety of their children and their needs.
We contemplate the mix of PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] and children with behavioural difficulties. Many of our children are on life support, oxygen, naso-gastric or gastroscomy feeds and should any of this equipment be pulled out it could be fatal within seconds.
Many of our children cannot purposefully moved at all, and should they be bitten or hit, and should they be bitten or hit they cannot defend themselves. It is madness to put these two types of children together.
Lots of our children are hyper-sensitive to noise or some movement for example. For some children noise is unbearable and induces seizures. My own daughter’s hypersensitive and contracts painful muscle spasms which can last for months leaving her unable to sleep, eat or swallow amongst other horrible symptoms. I don’t even have family around at Christmas because Ellie can’t tolerate bustle, how would she cope in a big, noisy school?
The alternative to mixed disability classes would be to segregate our children within a mixed school. The problem here is that in an emergency (such as a child needing resuscitation or having a seizure which happens frequently to many of our children) medical staff would have to navigate their way through keypad locked doors losing valuable seconds which again could prove fatal to our children.
Aside from these very real safety concerns, Stanley and Elleray are not suitable in this way. Lyndale provides a community atmosphere where children can move freely and safely around the school, visiting each other’s classrooms and socialising at lunchtime and other activities. Why should they be locked away for their own safety in a school which is unsuitable for them in the first place?
No one would sensibly suggest putting heart patients and meningitis sufferers on the same ward with the same doctors for the obvious reasons that they require different environments and treatments despite both having the label of “being ill”. In the same way we can’t treat all children that who have got the label of learning disabilities in the same way either.
Autistic and PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children have very different medical, environmental, educational and emotional needs. For example PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children need a stimulating, colourful sensory environment, exactly the opposite of what the type of environment autistic children need.
Parents have asked me to tell you that should Lyndale close, they will either keep their children at home or send them to schools out of area. This will incur a huge cost to the local authority.
The truth is we don’t think that it serves our children’s best interests to move at all. Many people feel our children are “just sitting there” with no consciousness of what happens around them, but I know that when Ellie looks at me with a twinkle in her eye it means she wants to play. I know that when other people see blankness she is in fact concentrating hard. I know when she is in pain or sad or anxious or ill and the staff at Lyndale have taken years to build up the same knowledge – that our children have an inner life as rich as yours or mine despite their inability to communicate it through normal means.
If you force them to move, they will feel the loss of all the people they trust and love and the loss of a placement that they were safe in for years. I ask yourself to put yourselves in their shoes for one minute.
Imagine being completely reliant on others for everything that happens to you and then imagine going to a strange place, where you know no-one and no-one is able to understand you when you try to tell them how you feel. Many of our children could not cope with the upheaval of a move. Change induces anxiety in our children and anxiety significantly worsens their disabilities and illnesses. They then suffer in a way that you would find unimaginable.
I’ve come to accept it with sadness over the years that Ellie will never learn to speak, eat or play independently or be able to take GCSEs. Many of our children don’t even make it to the end of primary school. It is painful for many parents with PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] children to be constantly talked at by educationalists about “achievement” and the need to move on.
Ellie is 11 and still likes peek-a-bo. All she needs is a special place where she is happy and she can rely on the consistency and environment and the adults around her. Lyndale allows for the days when the children frequently feel under par and brings therapy or treatment into the classroom.
Lyndale staff know that ill health is part and parcel of our children’s lives and to accommodate this into their individual sensory curriculum. I don’t believe that you can provide that at bigger schools with no PMLD [profound and multiple learning difficulties] experience. I don’t believe you better Lyndale to pass the SEN improvement test, you certainly can’t convince me or the other parents.
I imagine that most of you who have children or grandchildren and that they are the apple of your eye, quite rightly so. Now imagine that you are forced by some authority to send them to a place for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to a place where you know that they will unsafe, unhappy and possibly grossly, maybe fatally misunderstood. How would that feel?
And how much worse must that be for us who care for such fragile children every day? I ask you not as councillors or as administrators, but as parents, grandparents and decent human beings, please do not close our school.
I will extend an invitation to all members of the Cabinet to attend a meeting with our parents and visit our children. Come along and get to know them and see the wonderful work that Lyndale does. Thank you for your attention.
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Thank you for a very clear presentation. Thank you very much.
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK, can I now ask Julia Hassall (Director of Children’s Services) to come and put forward and introduce the report, Julia.
Thank you Chair. I just want to start by saying I appreciate that what I’m going to say now will sound very cold and factual following on from Dawn’s description of the some of the children at Lyndale and indeed our own report and I just want to acknowledge that before I start my presentation.
From the outset, I think this report is saying that this report is being brought to Cabinet this evening to seek permission to consult on closing the school and it’s not seeking permission to actually close the school.
Meeting the needs of the children is actually central to our concern and we are starting by working in partnership with the school to create an up to date needs assessment for each child. There’s real commitment and I put it to you now that the process is to be very transparent and open.
The report sets out the background and the reasons why it’s felt necessary to consult on closing Lyndale School down. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient places, school places in their area to ensure fair access to educational opportunity to promote the fulfilment of every child’s potential.
To do this any plans must consider the educational benefits for children, value for money and the way schools can develop collaborative practice for the benefit of the children. In this instance the local authority will need to take into account current provision for children with complex learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties at the Lyndale School, Elleray Park and Stanley primary schools, Foxfield and Meadowside secondary schools.
The reasons for considering on consulting on closure of the school are set out in paragraph 2.4 of the report. Closure of the school is being proposed for consideration because the viability of the school is compromised by the small size and falling roll which both contribute to a difficult financial position.
This proposal is not being made to Cabinet because of the quality of educational standards at the school. The most recent OFSTED inspection from November 2012 judged that Lyndale School was a good school and that pupil care and support, behaviour and safety were assessed to be outstanding.
In terms of the falling school roll, by way of background if every available place was taken then the occupancy would be 100%. Over the last seven years, the Lyndale School’s average occupancy has been 59% and there are currently twenty-four children at the school out of a total of forty places.
The size of the school and the numbers of pupils contributes to, as I’ve said previously, a difficult financial position with the likelihood of a deficit of £72,000 without any other action for 2014/15 which is 9% of the school’s budget and the potential for this to increase to £232,000 based on the numbers of children at Lyndale on the school roll.
Just to say a little bit by way of background about the funding reforms. Funding for pupils with special educational needs changed in April last year. The new system is called place plus. This means that the government pays £10,000 for each child that the schools place. In Wirral this year it’s being introduced gradually, but in future with £10,000 paid per a place, with 24 children in a forty place school this could mean a shortfall now of sixteen places or £160,000.
A Cabinet report that we’re presenting later this evening recommends a new approach to high needs top ups of … dependant on the child’s level of needs. This …
The top up now per a child is dependant on the additional needs of the child. It’s set by the local authority in agreement with the special schools and high needs providers on the Wirral who make recommendations to their representatives on the Schools Forum.
The majority of the children at the Lyndale School will receive the maximum top up payment per a child of £16,000 based on their profound and multiple learning difficulties which was described to us so clearly by Dawn.
This is the highest band which applies to all four special schools on Wirral for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. These national funding reforms have brought the Lyndale School provision into sharp focus. One of the difficulties the school faces is in terms of its small size and therefore large unit costs.
Should a decision be taken in the future to close Lyndale School, then the proposal at this stage would be to expand Elleray Park School and Stanley School so that the children with complex learning difficulties including the children with profound and multiple learning difficulties are educated and cared for on the same school site whilst recognising the individual needs of each child. This would not simply be a case of adding children into existing schools. We’re very carefully considering how each school will need to change to fully meet the needs of the children from the Lyndale School.
It’s proposed to expand the numbers of children across both schools up to two hundred and thirty children. Building work at Elleray Park is already planned to address sufficiency and suitability issues and this will be through a one-off capital investment. .. recent OFSTED reports, Elleray Park School was judged to be an outstanding school whilst Stanley School was judged to be a good school with outstanding leadership and partnership.
It’s very important to say that at this stage, the closure of the school appears to be the most viable option after having considered a number of different options attached as appendix two. However if this report is agreed by Cabinet, this will be the start of a lengthy consultation process with parents, staff and stakeholders but all available options will be considered including previously considered options set out in the appendix.
In terms of consultation, if Cabinet agree, then what will follow is a period of twelve weeks consultation after which a further report will be presented to Cabinet detailing the findings of this initial consultation. If the second report recommends the closure of the school and Cabinet agrees, a further formal six week consultation will follow. This is known as a representation period and the final report will .. to before Cabinet. It is only at this stage that a decision to close the school should that be approved can be taken.
My report sets out how a number of meetings with all representative bodies including meetings with parents and carers of … where a number of questions have been raised. The minutes and results of some questions will be sent to all parent carers next week. There is a commitment to work with the school to ensure full up to date needs assessment on each child as soon as possible which will help determine how children’s needs can be met which is very much a sustainable way forward. Should the decision be made tonight to proceed to consultation, a full schedule of consultation events will take place and they’ll be published.
In summary, I want to conclude by saying that considering the closure of a school is difficult and distressing particularly when children have such special needs as the Lyndale School does. It’s clearly important that Lyndale is a place at the centre of our concerns and that the special educational needs assessment improvement test is applied with rigour.
The test requires any future plans to demonstrate our children will maintain the quality of current provision and indeed improve upon it. I recommend that Cabinet agree to consult on closure of the Lyndale School and that I’m authorised to compile and produce the appropriate documentation to start the consultation as soon as is practically possible. Thank you.
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
Thanks Julia very much. OK, so I’m now going to ask Tony Smith whose the Cabinet Member for Childrens Services to make some comments.
CLLR TONY SMITH
OK, thanks for that Chair. Thanks very much Dawn for that. Dawn can I first of all say that I certainly will come round with you and meet with the staff and parents at Lyndale and if necessary spend as many days as possible in the school and can I also make this clear? This is a consultation, the officers have already formed a view on Lyndale School and that.
Having worked in that area I do know the concerns of parents and the environment looking at the school at Lyndale and that. I’m also very conscious that it has been an outstanding service to the Authority. You’ve always had good or outstanding OFSTED reports and that and over the last sort of six or seven years the numbers have been falling in the school and that has to be a bit of a problem and that but I do want to make this very, very clear that with regarding how open and transparent the process is.
If you do need any questions answered, if you do need any officer support I will ensure that you know that that is available and you know anyway that will be allowed like that. No options are out at this stage, I’ll make that clear as well. Even if the options are not in the papers that have been put forward, if people have other options then we will certainly listen to those options as well and that.
We are very lucky I have to say in this Authority to have outstanding special schools. It’s not often the case in local authorities that that happens and that. Whether it’s Lyndale or Elleray or Stanley or the other special schools we do really, really well in the Authority. So we do put our children in special educational needs with a high priority and I want to ensure that continues that way.
If there was any change and I don’t know whether there that would be enough … We will listen to the cuts consultation and that we are happy to say that we do have other outstanding schools and that.
So I don’t want to say much more than that really. I will come round into the school with some other Cabinet Members, they need to come round and making sure that happens as well. If you need help and support from the Authority, if you’ve got any question you want to ask or anything you feel you has to go in then we certainly would support that.
I’m happy with the content of the Director’s report. I think it’s been fair. It’s outlined what the pros and what’s happened in the organisation over the last six or seven years and that. The position that we are in at the moment, also the changes that have been brought about nationally and that. We’ll certainly keep an open mind. I think the twelve weeks consultation should give us sufficient time to be able to engage in that process and that but feel free to come back to me at any time if there’s any queries and that if necessary I’ll certainly revisit the school and that but thank you very much on behalf of the Cabinet for that contribution and I will be seeing you …
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK thanks Tony. OK, can I just say a few words. I mean first of all thanks to Dawn for such a clear presentation. I think that was really helpful to hear first hand.
I mean the other thing I want to say you know there’s no question Lyndale is a fantastic school, it provides you know a high quality education for its pupils and nobody would want to take a decision like this lightly. So I think it is important that we allow sufficient time for all options to be properly considered and it is important that we as Cabinet Members and Tony as the Cabinet Member for Childrens Services keep an open mind on all the options.
Appendix 2 of this report there are eight options identified. I know from personal experience when I was Cabinet Member for Childrens Services I know that if other options emerge during the consultation then I think that’s absolutely fine and we need to consider them, but I think you know we need to make sure that the outcome being completely open and transparent process for how we go about looking at this and obviously any help, support, advice, guidance you need… that we can give to help this process and for the parents and governors and the staff and everybody to feel that their voices have been heard and we’re happy to give that help and advice.
So I think the main thing now is in my view is to agree this report. We’re not making any decision tonight about any particular option. We’re just agreeing to consult around those options.
I myself, you know I’ve been down to back into Lyndale before and I’m sure there are other Cabinet Members who will avail themselves of the opportunity to go and have a look at the school and its staff, governors and parents I think that’s absolutely fine. So by the time that we come back to Cabinet with a further report at the end of the consultation period everybody hopefully will be content that we’ve done a proper sort of job making sure that we’ve looked at every possible option and certainly Dawn you’ve spoke tonight with passion about your feelings and we will sort of take those feelings on board.
So I think really that’s all I want to say, I just want to thank Dawn and the other parents and governors for coming here tonight and I want to add my support to Tony for recommendations outlined in the report at paragraph twelve that we agree to consult on the closure of Lyndale School, that the Director of Children’s Services or her nominee be authorised to compile the appropriate consultation documentation and proceed with the consultation exercise as soon as practically possible. Can I ask Cabinet if we can agree to those recommendations?
CLLR PHIL DAVIES
OK, so we’ve agreed those recommendations. I’d like to again thank everybody who’s coming tonight to hear this report for your attendance and I really do sincerely look forward to the consultation and making sure that everybody is given an opportunity to have their say. So thank you very much for your attendance tonight. OK, I’ll make a pause at that point and allow people who are just here for Lyndale if they want to leave they can do so. So we’ll just have a couple of minutes adjournment.