Cabinet agree to consultation on closing Lyndale School after being asked by parent “I ask you not as councillors or as administrators, but as parents, grandparents and decent human beings, please do not close our school”
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Prior to this item over five thousand had signed an online petition against closure of Lyndale School.
Wirral Council’s Cabinet, Council officers, councillors, the public and Alison McGovern MP present at the Cabinet meeting heard an extremely moving request from a mother of a child at Lyndale School, Dawn Hughes not to go ahead with a consultation on the closure of Lyndale School (which is a primary school in Eastham for children with special educational needs). What she said is worth quoting in full here and starts at 3:16 in the video above.
Dawn Hughes said, “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 diststress 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 consistenty 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. ”
The Labour Cabinet agreed to go ahead with a twelve week consultation on closure of Lyndale.
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