Friday, 25 October 2013

Schools merger plan savaged by Parent Council

North Ayrshire Council’s plan to create a Three Towns educational campus has been dealt another hammer-blow.

The local authority’s proposal to merge Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy with Ardrossan Academy and two schools for children with additional support needs – Irvine’s Haysholm School and Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School – has already been rejected by 77% of respondents to a public consultation.  Now, the3towns can reveal that the Parent Council of Haysholm School has submitted a scathing response to the idea that children with additional needs could be accommodated within a ‘nest’ at the proposed mainstream super-school.

The Haysholm response begins, “We find very concerning that some Council officials, when meeting with parents from other schools involved, are stating that ‘Haysholm Parent Council’ is in favour of the proposal.  We are not, we have never been and we will never be in favour of any amalgamation of Haysholm School within the Three Towns Campus.  We are in favour of enhanced facilities within the current environment or a merge with James McFarlane.”

In response to the Council’s public consultation, 60% of Haysholm parents clearly stated their opposition to the planned merger.

In its new submission to the Council, Haysholm Parent Council flags-up that the local authority’s SNP administration had considered but rejected an option to merge just the two schools for children with additional needs.  Had that option been chosen, the total cost for a state-of-the-art facility would have been £9m, with the Council and the Scottish Government each contributing £4.5m.  The option chosen by the Council – to merge all four schools – comes at a projected cost of £42m (£22m from the Scottish Government and £20m from NAC).

In response to a Council ‘Estate Management Update’ from August 2012, which referred to the proposed merger providing an opportunity to “further consolidate the secondary estate and also allow an opportunity to significantly invest in the Special School Estate to deliver a modern fit for purpose provision for our children, young people, staff and community,” Haysholm Parent Council states, “It does not say this is a Nest within a secondary mainstream school which would cost less and help with their cost-cutting exercise rather than create a standalone modern building that would be fit for purpose and provide a safe, suitable and comfortable learning environment for children and young people with severe and complex additional support needs.

The parents then explain the reason for their opposition to the proposed merger of additional needs children within a mainstream secondary school, “Imagine if you cuddled a teddy bear and, instead of feeling it soft, it was as sharp as needles.  Or you turned on a light and found its buzz unbearably loud and painful.  You’d probably be driven to extreme anxiety.  Everyday life is like this for many children with autism.  They can experience over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  But through sensory therapy and modification of the environment, their lives can be made more bearable. Our children get this in the present environment.  In the proposed campus, our children would not only have to adjust to a new environment, but also new children, staff, travel times, smells, noise - even without a bell ringing every 55minutes, 1500 children do make noise anyway - and visual stimulation.

“Our autistic children enjoy and rely on routines to help make sense of their daily life and the world around them.  When things change – perhaps the minibus they always travel on has been diverted or is stuck in traffic – this can lead to serious panic attacks.  Think how often things can change around you.  For a child with autism, even the smallest changes can be extremely distressing and confusing.

“Eighty-percent of children and young people with Autism are at greater risk of developing depression and mental health conditions.  Merging them into the new setting is not going to reduce this risk at all.”

Also in the Parent Council document is reference to how the neighbouring local authority, East Ayrshire Council – also SNP-controlled – has taken a different approach to the one proposed by North Ayrshire Council.  The report says, “East Ayrshire Council is providing their most vulnerable pupils with a state-of-the-art modern learning environment, while North Ayrshire Council, for our most vulnerable pupils, is suggesting a mix-match masked by ‘inclusion’ jargon and funds needs.”

Haysholm parents then ask, “If building super-schools was a Scottish Government policy, how is it that East Ayrshire Council has taken a different route,” adding, “Councillor Douglas Reid, SNP Leader of East Ayrshire Council has supported with all the other SNP councillors the building of this new facility for children with Additional Support Needs, yet his SNP counterparts in North Ayrshire are backing a Council official’s proposal that would cause our most vulnerable children untold trauma, anxiety and stress.  Are SNP local policies different from the national ones?”

The Haysholm response to the Council concludes by quoting Cllr Tony Gurney, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet member for Education, who said the local authority’s public consultation had been “extremely valuable” and that the SNP administration would “continue to speak to everyone involved as we seek to find the best possible arrangement for our children.”

However, Haysholm Parent Council replied, “That’s not good enough!  The Three Towns Campus does not meet the needs of children and young adults with complex additional support needs!

The majority of Haysholm’s children and parents are against the proposed amalgamation into the Three Towns School Campus!  Haysholm’s Children are North Ayrshire’s most vulnerable pupils!
Haysholm’s Children are your most vulnerable pupils!”

The Parent Council has sent its response to all 30 North Ayrshire councillors asking, “Please vote against the proposed amalgamation and the creation of the Three Towns School Campus.”

Last week a public meeting organised by Auchenharvie Parent Council also unanimously opposed the proposed schools merger and called on North Ayrshire councillors to vote against the plan when it is considered by the full Council, expected to be at a meeting scheduled for November 7. 

A majority of Ardrossan residents responding to the Council’s public consultation also rejected the plan (56%), despite the town being earmarked for the location of the proposed Three Towns campus.

Of the four schools that would be merged if the plan went ahead, only respondents from James McFarlane School supported the idea (67%).

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