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Future of Schools to be decided by Adjudicator

Despite the massive vote against their proposals the LEA persisted with its plans to close Alderman Knight and Belmont Schools and Battledown Children’s Centre at the Schools Organisation Committee. A packed meeting at Wheatpieces Community Centre heard the maximum permitted of 15 speakers opposing the proposals, while only a few gave half hearted backing to elements within the plan. The County Council’s plan sternly questioned by members of the Schools, Church of England and Roman Catholic groups, but when it came to the vote only the former actually voted against the proposals, with the other two following their normal practice of abstaining. With the LEA and The Learning Skills Council (now run by the original architect of the SEN Development Plan) voting in favour, the decision will once again be made by an Adjudicator.

Tewkesbury Electors almost unanimous in opposing
the proposed closure of Alderman Knight School

In the first local government referendum to be held under new legislation on the future of Alderman Knight School in Tewkesbury, the results surpassed even the wildest expectations of campaigners to save the school.

Over 56% of the electorate voted with 98.9% opposing the closure of the school. This once and for all disproves the claims of the Cabinet Member’s on the County Counci that the silent majority backs their proposals. Whether they will now back down still remains to be seen, but this will submitted as evidence to the Schools Organisation Committee and if necessary the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

Ofsted - Inclusion Policy Failing

No amount of spin about “the advantages of inclusion” in Ofsted’s Report Special Needs and Disability - Towards Inclusive Schools can hide the stark underlying message that The Inclusion Policy is a disaster and failing more and more pupils with Special Educational Needs.

The most worrying disclosure was a 25% increase in the number of pupils attending Pupil Referral Units from 2001 to 2003. This is an increase of a quarter in the number of pupils failed by our education system in just 2 years. It could be worse as no figures for the numbers on home tuition are given.

Another major concern was attainment levels of pupils with SEN. Whilst quality Special Schools expect many of their pupils to pass GCSEs, expectations in the mainstream sector are generally very low. Many parents feel that progress is handicapped simply because the targets are set so low in the first place, that it would be hard not to show inprovement on these. The report comments Expectations of the success that pupils with SEN can have remain at the heart of the matter. Many of those in mainstream schools could do better, provided that the curriculum, teaching and other support were better adapted to their needs and greater rigour was applied to setting and pursuing targets for achievement. Until more is expected from the lowest-attaining pupils, improvement in provision for pupils with SEN and in the standards they reach will continue to be slow.

It also recognises that failing pupils can lead to behavioural problems, “Some pupils with SEN continue to face barriers to participation and achievement, including inaccessible premises and shortfalls in support to reach their potential. They are more likely to be persistent non-attenders and to be permanently excluded than other pupils.”

Teachers Lambast Inclusion Policy

The moderate teaching union, NASUWT, launched a scathing attack on the government’s failing inclusion policy at its national conference. The Unions conference called for more Special Schools to be built saying that the drive to close down special schools in recent years and transfer pupils to mainstream education has gone too far.

The proposer of the resolution, Croydon English teacher Amanda Haehner, said the traditional system of special schools allowed those who needed it to access an appropriate education delivered by well-trained experts.

But the policy of "inclusion" meant pupils who needed special help were subjected to "the rigours of the national curriculum" and testing. So the most vulnerable experienced failure over and over again - and not surprisingly became disaffected.

She echoed the views of parents, saying “ Teachers were now cynical about the so-called ‘inclusion policy’ because they suspected it was merely a cost-cutting measure.”

 Delegates overwhelmingly backed the call for more special schools and told the Government that the inclusion policy was often poorly thought out.

Howard says respect parents views on Special Schools

Answering questions on BBC Midlands Today from campaigners from Gloucestershire and Worcestershire Tory leader Michael Howard expressed his opposition to Special School closures saying the views of parents should be taken into account.

Worcester Protest March a huge success

Worcestershire parents held a large and colourful protest march to Shire Hall to protest against the proposed closure of three Special Schools. With inclusion very much in the news recently, it received in depth coverage on regional TV giving parents a good opportunity to explain the importance of these schools for their children.

National Network Growing

Since the launch of our national campaign, we have established a growing number of contacts throughout the UK. In recent weeks we have established links with parental group in Worcester, Bromley and Leicester. If you are involved with a group fighting Special School closures and would like to keep in touch with what is happening in other areas e-mail me with details of what is happening in your area and I will include you on our mailing list.

Axe falls on Belmont and Battledown,
AKS awaits further consultations
on yet another unacceptable proposal

It was no great surprise that once again the cabinet of Gloucestershire County Council decided to totally ignore public opinion and approve plans to close Belmont School and Battledown Children’s Centre. The battle will now move to the Schools Organisation Committee where we will pull no punches in demonstrating the quality of these two schools or the very poor standard of the alternatives they still claim represent an improvement in SEN provision.

Alderman Knight School has been given a temporary reprieve as they attempt to find another proposal to destroy what is on offer at present, while not obviously closing the school. This is not a case of limited enlightenment, but seems to be an attempt to avoid Tewkesbury Borough Council calling a local referendum if they propose to close the school.


Why Blair must not play Pilate with Special Needs Education

Speaking at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire on March 2nd 2001 Prime Minster, Tony Blair, in response to a question said "The work being done by special schools is absolutely vital and for children with learning difficulties to leave that behind would be absolutely awful." Just last week in Prime Minster's Question Time when asked by Tewkesbury MP, Laurence Robertson, if he would come out in opposition to Gloucestershire LEA’s proposals to close Alderman Knight School, he washed his hands of the decision, stating that this should be handled by "the local process of democracy and consultation."

Was there anything approaching local democracy in Gloucestershire or if the County Council Cabinet took any notice of the consultations they hold, Bownham Park School would not have closed and Dean Hall and Oakdene Schools would not be under notice of closure. As it is, it is likely that two of Gloucestershire's top performing schools could also be closed purely on the grounds of a Government Policy, that is now totally discredited by its own statistics.

The recently published KS2 - KS3 and KS3 - GCSE Performance Tables include the new Value Added Tables. These measure the progress of pupils against expected norms and so allow comparisons to be made between schools of different types. It was no surprise to parents of children attending special schools that in general these performed much better than mainstream schools in the same area.

Analysis of Value Added Tables

Value Added Figures for selected LEAs

SEN Policy still poor

Whilst there was a certain amount of relief in Shire Hall that the result of the re-inspection by Ofsted and the Audit Commission noted improvements in many areas, the final report stated “The strategy for SEN remains poor.” Despite this and implied criticism of the proposals for the Forest of Dean, they tried to push these proposals through the Schools Organisation Committee, but were blocked by the Schools Group. The proposals will now be considered by an Adjudicator.


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