is a KCC Special School in Tunbridge Wells, with the capacity and expertise to meet the needs and offer a curriculum appropriate to the High Functioning Autistic Spectrum children for whom Furness currently caters. The proposal makes clear that this proposal is strongly supported and will be underpinned by the Kent Association of Special Schools, an organisation that effectively promotes the needs of statemented children in Kent for whom a Special School is most appropriate.
In May 2012 Furness was a failed school after OFSTED rightly placed it in Special Measures. The first Option to be proposed was that it became an Academy, the norm outcome for such schools. It was to be sponsored by the controversial Academy Trust, Lilac Sky, whose track record with mainstream is to say the least patchy, whilst Furness is their only experience of running Special Schools. They have recently been removed from sponsorship of Tabor Academy in Essex after it was placed in Special Measures and government then removed it from sponsorship of a new Free School in Chelmsford, the Trust's home town.
Option 2 was the closure proposed in January, with the children being scattered far and wide. Option 3 is the one proposed, above. There is no Option 4.
However, the proposal document continues in its misrepresentation of the factors that led up to this debacle, and fails once again to answer the many questions that parents have asked over the consultation. It is clear that the mismanagement of Furness School by all those responsible is to be swept under the carpet, not even with the usual ‘lessons will be learned’. No one will be held accountable.
I have written a number of articles exposing the level of mismanagement and false statements by the Council, including an open letter to the Director of Education, Mr Patrick Leeson, posing eleven key questions. His response was only able to cover three of these. I do not propose to repeat these issues, my most recent article covering events up to that point.
Sadly, following my Open Letter, I was accused by KCC of making a 'completely unfounded allegation' in the letter, containing 'scurrilous remarks'. Although I have asked KCC to tell me what these allegation and scurrilous remarks were, I have had no response as indeed there are none! Do feel free to let me know if you can spot them if I am mistaken, as KCC cannot.
The Minutes disclose other failures by the IEB, including the decision not to accept the proposal by Lilac Sky, who were managing the school for them, that the school needed a complete re-branding if it was to stand a chance of success. Parents have been making the same point ever since the school was put at risk, although it has been repeatedly dismissed out of hand by KCC. The importance of re-branding is underlined in the new proposal: “Broomhill Bank, in conjunction with KASS and KCC will introduce a robust plan to market the school”. Staff even put together a well thought out business proposal to ensure the residential accommodation was run most effectively, but the IEB didn’t even trouble to acknowledge receipt let alone respond, so we don’t know if they bothered to consider it.
So, the good news for the families concerned is that, assuming this proposal goes through, the current children will have an assured future, although for the staff, it is far more uncertain. Still at least they knew what was coming as even before the Consultation was concluded, they received letters from KCC’s Redundancy Sub-Committee stating that “due to the closure of the school you are at risk of redundancy from your post as a…….and that your post will be made redundant from 31st August 2015”. Not a ‘possible closure’, staff were told the decision had already been made which, along with other faulty aspects of the procedure is likely to land KCC with wrongful dismissal issues. I am sure that Broomhill Bank, as soon as the final decision is made, will want to retain some of the staff as it expands its activity, but sadly, some will have to go.
As for the families, assuming that the Broomhill Bank arrangement goes through, they will now know what to look forward to. The last three months have been very traumatic, unnecessarily so, as the arrangements for finding alternative schools for these vulnerable children, for whom security and stability are paramount to their mental health, has been shambolic to put it politely as explained in previous articles. At a recent full Kent County Council meeting, Gordon Cowan, Leader of the Kent Labour Group estimated that private school fees likely to be incurred would top £2 million per annum, and this was not challenged by KCC. What about those children who have entered into such arrangements with the approval and encouragement of KCC? Is there a legal obligation by the County to make payments if the child pulls out? Given that there will now be appropriate provision at the new annex, will KCC be able to block these children taking up places in expensive private schools at fees of up to £150,000 p.a?
The proposal document by KCC still shows it is living in fantasy land, amongst other reasons by championing the two proposed new ASD Unit provisions at Hugh Christie Technology College and Wilmington Academy as an alternative to the proposed annex, although it has now dropped any suggestion that Units are appropriate. The authors still do not appreciate the significance of the qualification 'High Functioning' which has an important effect on appropriate ASD provision.
10 transfer papers were ready for processing before Christmas but no action was taken.
It is evident that KCC Officers have shown a determination to rub out Furness, and place children in alternative provision, including a large proportion at very expensive private schools. There are two reasons why the current proposal has come forward. Firstly, that the Kent Association of Special Schools, alarmed at the loss of essential provision, has put forward this precise proposal and secondly, this has been explicitly supported by Paul Carter, the Leader of Kent County Council. The latter support is demonstrated by his comments at the recent Council meeting which appear to contradict officer views. You will find the webcast of the discussion here, from minute 50 when Mr Cowan introduced the subject and expresses his concerns about costs, through to minute 57 when Paul Carter expressed his support for the proposal.
KCC’s current official view is clearly that this is a sensible proposal on the table, which should be acceptable to all (except those staff who lose their jobs), and so we should move on. One cost of this is the £1.6 million deficit which will now be written off to be paid for by Kent’s maintained schools, but we shall now save, although from a different budget the costs of private schooling of the children concerned which officers appeared happy to pay out. The incalculable cost on family wellbeing will also be written off, as well as the enormous goodwill towards Furness of a staff that has fought hard to keep their school open.
However, one cannot deny the bottom line which is that in a few years time, Kent’s Special School Provision, currently with the best overall OFSTED results of any schools in the county, will be even stronger for the benefit of our most vulnerable and disabled children.