Council reaffirm stance on Special Schools

Future of Chartfield School to be discussed at Wandsworth Town Hall on 9th April.

The council have reaffirmed their commitment to teach more children with special needs in mainstream schools. They are currently considering proposals for four new 'resource bases' being opened in local schools. At the same time the council will press ahead with a programme of major building improvements at four special schools. However the changes would result in the closure of Chartfield School which caters for secondary-age pupils with a range of needs. Elsewhere in the borough Vines School for primary aged children with moderate difficulties is also to close.

Councillors on the education overview and scrutiny committee will be told on April 9 that depending on the outcome of this latest consultation proposals to close two existing special schools could be brought forward in the autumn.

The Council claims that pupil numbers at The Vines are expected to fall to around 65 by September. The school's capacity is 110. Chartfield has 91 pupils currently - a figure which is expected to fall further as more parents choose mainstream secondary education. Its capacity is 100.

Opponents of the closure are being urged to lobby the Council prior to the meeting

The changes are being put forward following the first stage of consultation on the council's 'Planning for Inclusion' initiative which is looking at the pattern of special educational provision in the borough..

Since 2001 councils have had a duty to try to make it possible for any child, however severe his or her needs, to be educated in a mainstream school if that is what the parent wants.

If councillors give their backing, talks could now go ahead with Wix and Granard primary schools on the possibility of their hosting resource bases. These in-school units offer small-group teaching, welcoming classrooms and care facilities. They enable children to be educated alongside other pupils who do not have special educational needs while still having all the access they need to expert resources.

Mainstream models of this type were commended to local authorities last month by the Special Schools Working Group - a DfES body chaired by education minister Baroness Ashton.

Discussions with secondary schools would involve the new St Cecilia's in Sutherland Grove and ADT College in West Hill.

Garratt Park secondary school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties would also be consulted on a proposal to broaden its intake. It would admit children with a wider ability range and include more pupils with an autistic spectrum disorder. It would offer the small-group teaching and medical care facilities that some of Chartfield’s pupils need currently. Pupils from Chartfield would switch to either Garratt Park or one of the new resource bases. In some cases they could attend their local mainstream school with additional support.

Other proposals would see Paddock, which is both an all-age school for children with severe learning disabilities and a secondary school for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties, staying in accommodation on its Roehampton site. The school might concentrate in future on secondary age children with severe learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorder. The Council say this would enable the building to be brought up to date and remodelled to allow better use of space including an extended play area.

These improvements would be dependent upon new resource bases (for children with severe learning disabilities) opening in one or two local primaries. This will involve discussions with Alton and Heathmere schools. Linden Lodge School in Southfields would be consulted on extending provision to include secondary age children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Further investment would also be required in the Greenmead School buildings. The school would continue to cater for primary age children with physical disabilities and profound and multiple learning difficulties. One option in the original consultation had been for Paddock to move in on the same site. This has now been dropped.

Cabinet member for education Malcolm Grimston summed up the difficult choices now facing councillors: "Trying to move from a system that is geared to educating youngsters with special needs in special schools to one where more children have a real opportunity to prosper in a mainstream setting is a huge challenge. We cannot offer future generations these choices without making the kind of investment we are proposing now for mainstream schools. But we also have to convince today's parents that the new provision will be safe and stimulating places for their children to learn."

He said that these changes would lead to a massive programme of investment that would lead to much needed improvements in special school provision.

However he admitted the changes would be disappointing to some, "None of this is any comfort to parents and staff at schools which may have to close to make these changes possible. As we approach the next stage of consultation on this critically important issue councillors will be listening closely to the full range of opinion."

The education overview and scrutiny committee will consider the report of the first phase of consultation on 'Planning for Inclusion' at its meeting on April 9. If councillors endorse the initial findings, the main recommendations would follow in the autumn.

If the proposals went through the number of special schools run by the council would fall from 10 to eight. The Council says that this level of specialist provision would still be amongst the highest in London.

April 4, 2003

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