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Monday, 16 February 2015 18:54

Furness School: An open letter to Mr Leeson, KCC Corporate Director of Education

I am very disappointed there has been no response from KCC to my previous article on Furness School, considering the important issues of finance and integrity it raises. Neither has there been even an acknowledgment of my formal request for the evidence supporting the unlikely assertion that parents of high functioning ASD children are spurning Special School places in favour of Units attached to mainstream schools, critical to the closure proposal, but completely ignored in the closure Consultation document.

The failure of the Local Authority to carry out a proper Equality Impact Assessment, according to the Equality Act, places the whole closure proposal in legal jeopardy.  

I have now written the following letter to Mr Patrick Leeson, KCC Corporate Director of Education and Children's Services:

Dear Mr Leeson,

Like me, you must be both concerned and embarrassed by the two mutually contradictory documents produced by KCC Officers about the future of Furness School, accompanied by the failure to produce an adequate and legal equality impact assessment. 

The situation is made much worse by the fact that the first of the two documents, the Complete Proposal for the re designation of Furness as a Special School for high functioning ASD children left out crucial information whose absence will have misled KCC Education and Children's Services Cabinet Committee members and would surely have affected their decision to approve the proposal.  In particular, the financial crisis that is the prime factor behind the proposed closure of the school just seven months later, would have been starkly evident back in July and so should certainly have been presented to members to make a reasoned decision, whereas there is no mention of finances whatsoever.

My immediate concern is that parents have been invited to a meeting to discuss the consultation document on 24th February, and are surely entitled to answers to the following questions to enable them to understand the issues. Many of the issues are amplified in my article, which I am sure has already been referred to you as a matter of grave concern………

As my original article recorded: “Just seven months ago, KCC published its proposal for the new designation, which came about in September, which actually beggars belief in failing to identify ANY of the issues they now claim are central to the closure proposal. If the claims were true (which they are not), this would be gross negligence at a minimum”. Is KCC really suggesting that these massive issues were not known last July?

1) Why did the proposal document make no mention of the financial problems of the school that have led to its proposed closure seven months later? Was this omission deliberate or is there some other explanation of this disastrous decision?

2) How was the school allowed to run up an In Year Deficit of £837,987 for the financial year 2013/14, way beyond normal limits, with a forecast of a further £762,942 for 2014/15, giving a year end forecast deficit of £1,631,520? school budgetary monitoring ensures that financial forecasting for the current year and identification of budgetary difficulties have a very high priority.

3) Given that the school has proved a financial boon for Lilac Sky Schools, an Academy Trust  to whom KCC handed over management control, what controls did KCC put in place to limit expenditure? Why did they not work? Who is the KCC Officer directly responsible for this debacle? After a similar disaster at Chaucer two years ago, what additional controls were put in place to prevent a repetition?

4) Given KCC’s determination to bring the Redesignated school into being, what strategies were introduced to tackle the deficit, or was this left to Lilac Sky to manage?

5) Are there any past or present KCC Officers whose relationship with Lilac Sky may have contributed to the remarkably generous arrangement that appears to have been created in this case?

6) The proposal, and the KCC Commissioning Plan both make clear that there is a demand for high functioning ASD places in West Kent to match those at Laleham Gap in the Far East of the county at Margate. How then is that the consultation document just seven months later can make the unlikely claim that there is no such demand?

7) The consultation document makes the sweeping claim that “Parents in North and West Kent have therefore asked the Council to develop mainstream provision rather than further provision in Special schools”. How many parents of high functioning ASD children have done this? Furness has been redesignated as a school for High Functioning ASD children. The Consultation succeeds in losing the distinction of “high functioning” in much of its arguments, which therefore becomes irrelevant. Where is the survey evidence that parents of high functioning ASD children in North and West Kent have been asked this question, and what are the outcomes? The new provision in Units at Hugh Christie and Wilmington Academy is for ASD. Why is there no mention of high functioning ASD provision?

8) The Consultation states that “KCC in agreement with the IEB, re-designated Furness to be an ASD provision following full public consultation. However, in spite of the recognised need for additional ASD provision in the County, it appears the previous poor reputation of the school remained and the school has continued to operate well below capacity. At the same time mainstream Secondary schools hosting ASD unit provision in Meopham and Malling are oversubscribed. Despite high levels of ASD need, the school has been unsuccessful in increasing the pupil numbers to a level that makes the school financially and educationally viable”. The Redesignation Proposal confirms that the change from BESD only happened for September 2014, in June, giving no time for high functioning ASD children to be processed. Furness has never been in competition with Meopham or Malling, for these children. How can such deliberately misleading statements appear in an official KCC document? OFSTED and the Consultation document confirm there were no admissions in 2012/13, as a result of a request by Lilac Sky. Might this not have some relevance to the low numbers? Why were Lilac Sky in charge of admission policy for a KCC school, especially when it should have been obvious that maintaining numbers would be critical to financial viability, and this policy was doomed to lead to the problems that subsequently developed? 

9) Are you not concerned that the hopelessly flawed and inadequate Equality Impact Assessment clearly places KCC in breach of the sections of the Equality Act relating to direct and indirect disability discrimination, for the reasons set out in my article? This is itself sufficient to bring the Consultation to a halt if any parents of high functioning ASD children either attending the school, or planning to attend the school, were to challenge the Council appropriately, as if closure took place there would then be no equivalent replacement provision planned to parallel that available for children in East Kent. Is the council prepared to take the risk that because there are not large numbers of such families, no challenge would be mounted?

10) Would you agree that the Council’s foolish description of the site as “a mixture of an old manor house forming the main part of the school, surrounded by newer outbuildings and residential apartments”, instead of “a purpose built residential school with a recent £3.5 million, 2 story extension, with 2 fully equipped science labs, and an Art room/ studio, plus other classrooms and offices, along with subsequent investments” epitomises the appalling standard of these two documents?

11) There is no doubt that families have been badly let down by KCC over this issue. As you will be aware for children with ASD, stability is a crucial part of their well-being, and these awful decisions will inevitably have a terrible effect on many of them. Is KCC prepared to apologise for what can only be called incompetence over this issue?

To confirm, whilst you may not wish to respond to my questions directly, I would at a minimum expect parents to be provided with the answers to my questions by the 24th February, so that they can understand the issues that have led to this disgraceful state of affairs.

As I am sure you are aware, my initial article covered other issues, which you may wish to refer to.

I will accordingly, make copies of this letter available elsewhere. Perhaps you can provide copies to the membership of the Education and Young People’s Services Cabinet Committee, who will no doubt have a view on how they have been so misled by the Proposal and on the quality of the Closure Consultation document.

Yours sincerely

Peter J Read

Last modified on Friday, 20 February 2015 07:03

2 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 16 March 2015 21:35 posted by joanna sanger

    My child has been permanently excluded from Meopham secondary school, he has a statement also has ASD and ADHD. PETER: Whilst we don't know the circumstances of this exclusion, it is the nightmare of so many parents of ASD statemented children, although some at Furness will have already lived it and then had a lifeline thrown to them. If Furness is closed, then some of them will once again become vulnerable to exclusion without the specialist care that Furness offers and is clearly highly valued by those who benefit. My heart goes out to Joanna and her son. See further comment in my latest article on Furness on the main news page.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 04 March 2015 17:22 posted by S Clark

    Peter, have you had a response to this letter as yet? If so where can I find it? Regards PETER: Still waiting, but I have sent a reminder.

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