Adjudicator supports Bownham Closure
The fight to save Bownham Park as a specialist centre for MLD children has been dealt an untimely and deadly blow.
Mr Tony Webster The Adjudicator assigned to the case following the failure of Gloucestershire Schools Organisation Committee to reach a unanimous decision on the LEA proposal to close Bownham, controversially delayed announcing his decision made on 25th May until June 8th, the day after the General and local elections. The decision when it came was to approve the proposed closure without modification.
The Bownham case is generally seen by most as a test case for the Gloucestershire inclusion policy and also for the particular method of implementation across the county. So it has come as some surprise even on both sides of the debate, that the adjudicator has approved such a brutal methology of such an inadequate policy decided on the weakest of politically motivated votes. How can approval without modification be substantiated based on the flimsiest of evidence and in the face of such obvious impassioned opposition from the very people who have the most to loose and who are the users of this valued unique provision.
Anyone misfortunate enough to have attended one of the authorities consultation meetings will have born witness to a dictation of predetermined policy and little interchange of dialog ideas or opinion. Throughout there was an expression of extreme concern from parents, governors and teaching professionals with the implementation of a policy that removed Bownham Park as a part of the overall special needs provision in Stroud and the South Cotswolds. The LEA formulated this policy deliberately excluding parental input or opinion. It was obvious that the LEA were determined to implement this policy regardless of all and any opposition and concerns about removing this choice of provision and opportunity. Mr Webster has found this to be acceptable and it is difficult to conceive of any other minority group that could be discriminated against in such a manner.
The vague assurances with regard to future levels of care and provision within mainstream schools and the obvious disparity between the two forms of provision. The lottery of post code added extra provision with requirement indicators such as free school meal take up and how often parents had successfully sued the authority or had managed to take them to tribunal were all perceived to be adequate justification for the discontinuation of Bownham. The alternative of bussing children unacceptable distances to Gloucester or Cheltenham to the remaining MLD special school places were all deemed to be not only adequate but also fully acceptable by Mr Webster as a means of improving inclusive educational opportunities.
We are all left wondering what it is that you have to do to preserve something that is seen by many as a fundamentally necessary and essential service to what can only be described as a section of societies most deserving. We are sure that some of the propagators of this well intentioned but financially motivated policy also have a higher moral motivation. However we cannot get over the fact that they place themselves and their beliefs over and above those of us and our children and having done so they cannot understand why we are not best pleased with their arrogance.
The only comfort that can be drawn from Mr Webster is in that he has had the good grace to make clear that this decision cannot be interpreted as implying that a similar decision would be reached at any other school. He has assured us that no such implications can be drawn. It is difficult to see how we can oppose the LEA more strongly or with more effect but we have to look at the details and form strategy to do so. We must start by making it clear that what is good for Stroud is not OK elsewhere.
There are two open ended recommendations in Mr Webster's conclusion notes.
That the authority ensures continued commitment to providing additional mainstream support made possible by the release of funding brought about by the closure of Bownham.
That the Authority sustains its enhanced support for MLD children within mainstream schools.
It is our job to ensure that they do.
Mr Webster concludes by stating that he believes the closure of Bownham will promote inclusion but will maintain choice for parents and children who want to attend a special school. Only he and a few on the LEA can see that as a reality and only he will have to sleep with his conscience. Unfortunately it is we that have to live with the reality.
We hope that everyone genuinely concerned with preserving specialist provision for MLD children in Gloucestershire will take stock and realise that we have to redouble our efforts to prevent a repetition. Added pressure must be applied to County Councillors and MPs to stop this culling of specialisation. We must do everything possible to illuminate hypocrisy and deception. When a politician claims that they will not be voting to close Dean Hall make sure they also back the statement with one of continuance of accessible MLD provision at Dean Hall as well and ensure that they are not just contemplating a transfer of Oak Dean school. Don't let them hide their shame behind empty promises. At the moment they are supporting a policy of inclusion for all MLD children and that can only spell one future for MLD special schools. Bownham is the hard evidence of their true intention. They are ashamed of it as they should be, we must expose them to make public pressure force them into changing the policy that has only one conclusion.
The Gloucestershire LEA submitted to the Adjudicator, information based on its own research of its integration initiative that they claimed had resulted in a high level of satisfaction. The LEA selected the trail group of children. (predominantly Junior aged children) The LEA alone were able to monitor the progress of the children and they alone were able to set the questions asked. They alone were able to read the information gained and substantiate the resultant feedback. Surprisingly, many parents who were highly dissatisfied with the inclusive provision were not asked for feedback. Of the information that is available it seems that follow ups were only carried out on about 50% of the adults and only about 25% of the children. Even then they could only make claim of an 80% satisfaction rating. How the LEA have the gall to lay claim to any conclusions of success or even the most basic of scientific principals for this information and worse, how the adjudicator can accept this as supportive evidence defies belief.
In the same manner:
I have been carrying out my own survey for the past three years. I have asked the right sort of questions from those I feel will give me the right sort of answers and have ignored the views of those I don't feel would give the right answer. No I am afraid you cannot see the evidence or even have the names of the participants it is confidential. However I can positively conclude that I have done a bloody good job with a 90% satisfaction rating and deserve to be made King.
Point of clarification and for the record.
County Councillor Andy Rickels also of Cheltenham Disability action, does not have any right or authority to claim representation of children in MLD special schools. Yet this is the claim he made to the Schools Organisation Committee.