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.
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.