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Tuesday, 24 February 2015 13:36

Furness School closure update

“We are scared"

Radio Kent interview with the parent of a child living in Folkestone who has only been offered one appropriate school for her son if the closure of Furness School goes ahead

a private Boarding School in Shropshire!

 Sadly, this family is not alone, for if Furness Special School closes, there is little alternative appropriate  provision for the high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder children for whom the redesignated school was set up in September, just six months ago. 

Breaking News (Wednesday afternoon)
 1) I have just received a letter from Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council, following an informal KCC Cabinet Meeting on Monday. This makes clear that the closure of Furness School is not a foregone conclusion and that other avenues are to be explored, as there was a general view that  there were many good reasons to try and retain such specialist provision. It was agreed that this view should be articulated at any public meeting.
 
2) The comment at the foot of this column suggests that Roger Gough, Cabinet Member for Education, who presumably was present at the above informal Cabinet meeting, is advising parents they do  NOT need to look at schools or accept offers until the end of the Consultation. Many parents are indeed scared, these are families who have had to fight for proper provision for their children from an early age, not just in education, and are often highly stressed. Whilst this may be of considerable comfort it cannot take away the uncertainty. One parent who has visited a private school this week has been told they have to accept the place that has been offered, the next day or it will be lost. What should they do? I am not sure how I could answer them.   

 

The article continued (before the above items arrived)....

This article is an update on my previous articles about the proposed closure of Furness School following gross mismanagement by those responsible for the school and its children.  The school currently has just 31 pupils out of a capacity of 60, of whom 20 are high functioning ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) children who have joined the school following the bright future heralded last June in its redesignation as a school to cater specifically for their condition. 

A meeting for the public and parents about the proposed closure took place last night; summary below.......

The biggest ruction came when a parent from Folkestone reported that her son had been offered a place at a private boarding school in Shropshire. Others have been offered private schools in Kent and Sussex; two families have been advised to use Google in their search for schools. It was made clear by KCC’s Director of Planning and Access that the prime reason for the proposed closure was the £1.6 million deficit (created by total failure of KCC to monitor budget for two years). The claim that parents of high functioning ASDs would prefer SEN Units in mainstream schools to a specialist provision such as Furness appeared to have been based on anecdotal reports (I have spoken to several professionals over this claim, and can only report it has been met unanimously with incredulity).

Parents searching for Special Schools in Kent will find Furness School listed as for Behavioural, emotional and Social Development Needs, hardly likely to attract parents of children with ASD. 

BBC SE covered the story last evening (offering a second time to catch me in action today if you missed me on ITV’s ‘Good Morning, Britain’ this morning, talking about infant school admission issues for summer born children).

Public Meeting to discuss proposed closure:

This summary is based on reports from a number of parents present at the meeting. I will be adding to the summary to include any further points omitted.

  • The reason for the deficit, described as baggage, was low numbers, partially caused by the blocking of admissions for a period by Lilac Sky, who were managing the school on behalf of KCC. Examples were provided of families who had tried to enrol their children in Furness, but had been dissuaded or sent elsewhere, some out of county. KCC’s view was that they may have been unsuitable.
  • Some parents had been put off by the reputation of the previously designated school. None of the recent good work in the school has been promoted.
  • There was much discussion on the failure of KCC to promote the school to prospective parents (actually I think 20 high functioning ASDs in the first year of operation is not a bad return, and one could expect more in the next few years).
  • One parent with a financial background had questioned the financial status of the school in April 2014 before his son joined the school and been told it was good (clearly untrue!).
  • None of the three senior KCC officers present knew how many boarders there were at the school.
  • Apparently, there are websites showing how the deficit is made up, although these were not identified. KCC will be providing further details of expenditure on the school in time (how was not explained, or whether it would be produced before the end of the Consultation).
  • KCC acknowledged that the placement of children out of county would be a cost to KCC. (A private SEN Boarding School in Shropshire is likely to cost more than £150,000 per annum for just one child. This critical factor has not been considered as a cost and downside of closure in the Consultation document).  
  • KCC were asked whether anyone in KCC was being held responsible for the financial failure. No response, as with many of the other questions asked, some as on my series of questions to Mr Leeson (previous article).
  • No parents had been consulted on what were claimed to parental views reported in the Consultation document.
  • KCC were pressed on the future of the land if the school closed. Although they would try and use it for educational purposes (although there appears no current need, with the local comprehensive, Oasis Hextable Academy being closed through lack of demand), the view of the meeting was that it would go for housing.
  • Unsurprisingly, there was considerable anger throughout the meeting about the proposed closure when there was clearly a need for a school for high functioning children in West Kent, and also about the failure of KCCs officers to respond to questions.

Alternative Provision

KCC is already working hard on finding other school places for Furness children, which can of course only help Furness on its downward spiral if parents take them up. I was initially astonished to learn from parents that a number of the places already proposed are in private schools, some for residential places (being too far from the home for daily travel), almost certainly at a considerably higher cost than a maintained school. One parent has been offered On reflection, it is perhaps unsurprising as there is limited provision with nearly all Kent state Special Schools are bulging at the seams. KCC maintains a data base of possibilities, including schools in East Sussex. Other parents have been referred to the proposed Units at Hugh Christie Technology College and Wilmington Academy, although with no details of how these Units will operate and no higher functioning provisioning in sight.

This is of course a further acknowledgement that, if Furness were to close, KCC has removed facilities necessary to provide an appropriate education for these children, for there is no other facility for this condition in the West of the county. It is therefore likely to be further evidence of a breach of Equality Act legislation, especially as I can find no reference in the Closure Consultation or in the Equality Impact Assessment that such private provision would be necessary to make up the shortfall, or any reference to the additional finance to fund these places.

The decision and the questions that need to be asked
 
Of course, no decision to close has been formally made and cannot be made until the end of the Consultation period on 25th March and I understand that the letter I wrote to Patrick Leeson, reproduced in my previous article, has generated considerable discussion within KCC. I have been told to expect a reply within a few days – why did I not believe it would come before tonight’s meeting which would have enabled parents and the public to discuss the facts in an informed way?! 
Last modified on Saturday, 28 February 2015 18:35

4 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 March 2015 08:03 posted by karen steel

    Why close such a outstanding school FURNESS SCHOOL when so many parents struggle to find suitable schools for children who are autistic .I am so glad Adam attends there and i wasn't put of by the so many damning reports advertising this outstanding school My son has not been offered any other alternative placements elsewhere. I have stated to my case worker if any placement are unsuitable for Adam's needs I will refuse. KCC are most welcome to take action but as far as I'm concerned he is in the best school he could be in .

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 February 2015 12:40 posted by Amanda Noble

    Finally had a visit from my sons caseworker toďay after numerous phone calls begging to get hold of her. She drove all the way to my house to tell me that she cannot find suitable provision for my son and is going back to ask her manager if she can look at independent provision for him. This could of been said to me over the phone instead of wasting more of thier budget on a pointless 5 minute visit.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 26 February 2015 09:19 posted by tammi darvill

    My kcc officer has been a nightmare to try and get hold off she's very keen to get my son in a different school by the easter holidays but hasn't sent his paperwork off to any of the schools that have been suggested

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 25 February 2015 17:14 posted by Jackie Sinnott

    Parents have been advised by Roger Gough that we do not need to look at schools or accept offers until the end of the consultation. If this is the case why are schools being sought now and some parents being pressured into accepting places now? I was told this morning by a kcc officer that this is just a contingency plan and have asked for it all to be put into writing to every parent. Is this fair on our children who are upset and unsettled as it is to be upset further by viewing schools and being uncertain of their future? Surely the best option would be to wait until the final decision is made and take it from there?

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