Forest of Dean

No real change, but more dirty tricks

The Council Cabinet has made no significant change to its original proposals except that now no one seems to know precisely what facilities there will be at the so called Resource Centre in Cinderford. The closure notices have been issued and are due to be discussed by the Schools Organisation Committee in December.

Just when this meeting will be held remains unclear at present. Both the GSSPL and parental representatives from both Dean Hall and Oakdene Schools requested to address the meeting only to find the Council had scheduled it to clash with the Dean Hall School Christmas concert. Following approaches to the SOC Chairman this issue was not discussed at the December SOC and will now be considered at the January meeting. Objections have been lodged to the proposal to discuss the closure of both schools as a single issue when the cases and arguments are quite different.

Cinderford Protest March

Despite very heavy rain, hundreds of parents and concerned people marched through the centre of Cinderford on Saturday 2nd November to protest against the county’s plans for special education in the Forest of Dean. If these go ahead it would mean the closure of Oakdene a school for children with Severe Learning Difficulties in Cinderford and Dean Hall for children with Moderate Learning Difficulties near Speech House. A new school is planned for the Dean Hall site, but would only have places of 50 pupils most currently at Oakdene. They oppose the move because for much of their education they need to be in an urban environment. Just 10 places would remain for the existing Dean Hall pupils, a ridiculously small unit. A Resource Centre in Cinderford is also proposed to provide life skills training for SLD pupils. Parents believe that this is a waste of well over £2 million. Better service could be obtained by investing far less in the existing schools.

Forset of Dean - Cabinet has second thoughts on Dean Hall and Oakdene
and the Education Scrutiny Committee condemns its decision.

We welcome the cabinet’s decision to reconsider its original decision to reconsider its proposal to close both Dean Hall and Oakdene Schools and replace them with a new school that would not fully serve the needs of either set of pupils. However, we would have more confidence, if there was any indication that the cabinet was seriously considering changing its mind. These feelings seem to have been endorsed by the Education Scrutiny Committee, which has now condemned the original cabinet.

A silent majority is not suddenly going to appear in support of their proposals just because they have wasted more money on sending letters to those who are sick to death of hearing about them and furious about being ignored. Isn’t it about time they decided to talk! We have been trying to have constructive talks for most of the last year on why these proposals are unsatisfactory and what it needed to reach agreement. At best we have been stalled on the basis of pressure of work and often the response has been even less helpful.

Our door is still open, surely it is time for Councillors to accept the invitation.

There was massive public opposition to the County Council’s plans for the closure of Dean Hall School near Coleford. Despite opposition not just from parent’s, but schools and other sections of the community the County did not draw up revised proposals.

Mrs Wilding, a governor at Dean Hall School, said there had been a “wonderful and positive message” to the authority from people attending a round of consultation meetings being held in the Forest. She said the message had been loud and clear that there was considerable strength of feeling in favour of Dean Hall remaining.

Unfortunately the proposals amount to little more than closure by the back door. The County is suggesting that a new school is built on the Dean Hall site to replace both Dean Hall School and Oakdene Special School in Cinderford which caters for children with Severe Learning Difficulties. The new school would be sized for about 50 pupils, of which only 10 would be for children currently catered for by Dean Hall.

In the second round of consultation meetings these proposals were condemned by parents and staff from both schools. There was also little support from mainstream schools who will receive little extra funding and be expected to integrate pupils who are at present catered for by Dean Hall. Staff from Oakdene, who had ask to be considered in the consultation exercise were furious with the proposals. “We asked for our situation to be considered, not to be closed.”

The general concensus was that the Dean Hall site was firstly not suitable for SLD children, who need regular access to a town centre for much of their skills training and also that the proposed size for the school was far too small to cater for the actual demand for this type of facility and that it would not be a viable unit.

Strong condemnation of the proposals has also come from
West Gloucestershire head teachers. “I think the head teachers are being very realistic,” said Mrs Wendy Wildin, who has attended all the consultation meetings.

The heads state that while they agree with the philosophy of inclusion (integration of special needs pupils in mainstream schools) the practicalities are of great concern. “We need to give all the children, but especially those with special needs, the best we can,” they say. “Good provision takes time, space and trained staff. Many small schools do not have the room or a room to put small groups or individuals if they have to be withdrawn from class.”

“We also feel that while there are grammar schools for the more able there should be special schools for the other end of the spectrum; it is equal opportunities after all.”

The heads worry that important staff skills will be lost if special schools close and they also say there is a case for Dean Hall to continue to cater for children with learning difficulties unable to ‘cope’ with mainstream school.

Once it became clear that  no notice was being taken of the feedback from the consultation exercise, another petition was organised and received over 6,000 signatures in just 2 weekends and presented to the cabinet before there meeting its meeting on February 1st.

What followed was a stunning example of the arrogance and ignorance that typifies much of local government in Gloucestershire. Charmain Shepperd, Liberal Democrat, Portfolio Holder for Education began by insulting all signatories to the petition by explaining to her colleagues that we simply could not comprehend what the council is trying to do. Her own comprehension of what she is actually doing would have been greatly improved if she had ever bothered to pay a visit to see the work done at Dean Hall and Oakdene Schools.

Not to be out done, Mark Hendry, Labour, set out to enlighten everyone on what was happening in other LEA’s, pointing out how inclusion had gone much further in neighbouring Wiltshire. Heads nod round cabinet table, while many spectators gasp in disbelief. Unlike them we have read the SEN section of the Wiltshire Ofsted Report. We don’t want move towards a position where:

“The LEA is not, at present, providing satisfactory support to schools to help raise the attainment of pupils with special educational needs. In two-thirds of schools visited, the support provided was unsatisfactory; in no school was it good."

Finally, Council Leader, Peter Clarke, Labour, admits there may be a need to have a re-think on the proposals for the new school and offers to discuss this. Would it not have been better to do this before making the decission? We have been suggesting talks for months and have been turned down. There has been the pretence of consultations, which he did not attend and chose to ignore the results of. Don’t take our word for, read what Vernon Harwood wrote.


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