Queen’s Park plans slammed at committee

Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) was heavily criticised at a City Council scrutiny committee on July 20 over its proposals to close Queen’s Park School.

The special school, labelled “outstanding” by schools inspector Ofsted, will be closed in August 2013 if the County Council’s proposals are accepted.

The criticisms lead to the City Council requesting that Lincolnshire County Council suspend the consultations until further alternatives have been examined.

The county authority claims the site is “not fit for purpose” and so its pupils will be moved to other special schools in the city.

City of Lincoln Council’s Community Leadership Scrutiny Committee heard reports from County Council officials, independent experts and other relevant representatives of parties affected by the plans.

Many members of the public turned up to the meeting, which was held at the Drill Hall.

Paul Snook, the County Council’s Principle School Improvement Advisor, and Peter Duxbury, Director of Children’s Services at the County Council, gave a 30-minute presentation of the proposals, detailing the reasons as well as the process.

They confirmed to the committee that no medical professionals had been consulted about the closure, though educational psychologists had.

Decision made?

Therese Lord, Chair of the Lincolnshire Parent Carer Council, wrote a report after speaking to parents of pupils at Queen’s Park.

She told the committee: “I have to categorically state that the working parties [LCC] never ever mentioned closure of Queen’s Park School.”

Parents also felt that decisions had already been made by the County Council when they were being consulted, she said.

“There was never any discussion about the closure. [The parents] reiterated that many times.

“One particular parent even showed me the slide [from a LCC presentation to parents] where Mr Snook had showed a slide to all the parents about a year ago saying ‘this is not about closing special schools’.”

She also said that one parent had to get appendixes from a consultation document by using the Freedom of Information Act: “In the appendixes there were several references to the Queen’s Park Land possibly being sold to gain funds … and reducing the revenue costs by reducing the number of special schools.”

Sharon O’Dell, Project Manager at Lincoln ADHD Support Group, told the committee: “What does concern me mostly is the impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of the children if they are forced to move premises.

Slight changes in a child’s routine or environment can cause “massive changes” in their behaviour, she said.

“The type of children who are at Queen’s Park School, most of them will actually suffer some pretty substantial effects if they are forced to move. We know the slightest change can cause huge issues for these children.”

O’Dell added that she thinks it’s “scandalous that somebody with medical knowledge hasn’t been included [in consultations]”.

Overwhelming opposition

Tony Gray, a Governor at the school, told the committee that the Board of Governors initially accepted the County Council’s proposals, but changed its view following the overwhelming opposition from parents.

“It has been mooted that there is some support for these proposals among some parents. All I can say is that I’ve been seeing parents both individually and in meetings over the last few weeks.

“There are only 89 children who attend Queen’s Park School and I think that I have probably seen the parents of most of those children. I haven’t heard one expression of support for this proposal,” he said.

Gray also has a letter from health and safety inspectors declaring that the school is safe, challenging the notion that it isn’t fit for purpose.

Governors were told by the County Council that there is no practical alternative to the plans: “Of course there is. There always is. It just matters how much you want it,” Gray said.

Debbie Gutsell, whose son goes to Queen’s Park, gave a statement on behalf of parents.

Gutsell said: “This school is very much a second home to our children. An extended family. They love going there and they are very happy there.”

She added that parents believe the term “not fit for purpose” is “misleading”.

A petition against the closure, started by Gutsell, currently has around 8,000 signatories.

Unanimous vote

Jan Robinson, a member of staff at Queen’s Park, gave a report on behalf of school staff.

“The staff at Queen’s Park School are extremely concerned about the proposals to close or school and feel that it is being forced upon us at almost break-neck speed,” Robinson said.

“We’ve been misinformed about certain aspects of the process … other questions and concerns have not been satisfactorily answered by the local authority.

“We feel that other proposals or options have been dismissed without thorough investigation.”

Peter Duxbury insisted that the school building isn’t suitable: “This is not about teaching and the experience of children, this is about the physical fabric of the school. It is not fit for purpose in the current day and age for looking after children.

“That is my assertion, my absolute belief.”

He went on to say: “This is not based upon a referendum.”

Duxbury also stressed that the proposals are not about saving money.

The committee unanimously decided to recommend the County Council “suspend consultation” in order to fully explore alternatives to closure.

Members of the public at the meeting took part in a ballot, which came out as 74-4 against County Council plans to close Queen’s Park School.