The official support campaign is on The Windmill School Campaign and I wrote to my MP and to Ramon Wilkinson of Cambridgeshire County Council:
Dear Mr Paice,
The proposal by the LEA to close four small special needs schools and replace them with two large ones some distance away from all but one (the Lady Adrian) is not a good move: it represents a loss of services at the local level and as such increases all the bad things which we're taught to dislike: more travel, more central authoritarian control.
At a personal level, I use the Windmill School hydrotherapy pool twice a week. It is now the closest pool to me, but it wasn't always: a hydrotherapy pool in the St Andrew's Care centre in Bottisham was closer but was closed in 1999. Even assuming that equivalent facilities are available in the new schools, since there would presumably be fewer pools, there would be less access for people like me (and organisations like the National Back Pain Association) (access at the Grove School has already become impossible while the pool at Addenbrookes is horribly over used leading to very short hydrotherapy sessions being the only things on offer from there). And those pools would be further away (Linton or the centre of ever-crowded Cambridge), involving more travelling.
In my visits to the pool, I often see the children playing and they are certainly happy here (and a friend, Cheryl Haynes, who works there agrees) and I think that moving children who have such difficulties can only lead to trauma for them.
I hope you will look into the matter of the closure
James Paice replied as follows:
Thank you for your email regarding the Windmill Special School. I have always kept closely in touch with the Windmill and with Kate Kemp. I have had a number of discussions with her and with the Chairman of the Governors regarding the school's future and the proposals by the County Council. I have opposed the LEA plans since they were first suggested and I remain of the view that they are wrong not just for the Windmill but for the pupils whom the schools serve. I am also in support of the school's proposals for foundation status.
I will do whatever I can to assist the school in its campaign and you may be completely assured of my support.
James Paice, MP
Which is good. I also got the following reply from Ramon Wilkinson:
Thank you for copying me into your correspondence with Mr Paice. I note your objection and will ensure that it is brought to the attention of the School Organisation Committee when the final decision is made by that organisation.
We have spent over four years consulting on the proposals to enhance the education that children and young people with special educational needs receive in Cambridgeshire. This review actually started around 1992 but for a variety of reasons was never completed. Most of those were related to political nervousness and lack of funding!
The proposals for the special schools in Cambridge City are part of the whole review which seeks to rationalise provision around the county bringing with it a fairer and more equitable funding regime at the same time as modernising our school buildings and equipment and delivery programme.
Outside of Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire we have four area special schools that accommodate around 170 children and young people in each school with an age range between 2 - 19 yrs suffering disabilities ranging from moderate learning difficulty to profound and multiple difficulties. Pupils have the advantage of experiencing a community in their formative years that they will benefit from when they actually leave school. Over the past ten years the area schools have been the subject of OfSTED inspections registering them as very good schools. One has received the accolade of being a Government 'Beacon School'
Three of the four special schools in the Cambridge area are small in comparison and struggle to find economy of scale and opportunities for staff development. Three have buildings that are far from suitable with no opportunity to expand and in many case lack fundamental provision for children with special needs. The schools perform incredibly well despite all this and there is not, and never has been, any criticism whatsoever of staff commitment or professionalism. But we can do much better for those children and staff.
Larger newer schools mean improved opportunity for the socialisation of children and greater opportunity for teachers to add to their wealth of experience managing children across a spectrum of need. A conclusion from the review is that this is not a cost reducing exercise. £9m has been identified to fund all the exciting proposals for two new area schools that will embrace the latest technology and teaching aids, which will include swimming pools and hydrotherapy pools together with the necessary specialist equipment. We have deliberately set out to create centres of excellence that will be the envy of LEA's throughout the country. We have also deliberately located them North and South of the city to reduce traffic flows through the city. Most children will be travelling to school using taxis and people carriers. There will be a transport plan for each school as part of the planning proposals that will have to pass the test of local planners.
I note you suggest there will be more central control. In fact the exact opposite is intended. Both schools will be community schools (extended schools in the government's parlance) whereby the head and governing body will have full autonomy to run the school. The new Education Act 2002 widens the powers of governing bodies to enable the school to be engaged in commercial activity such as community access. There is no reason why the schools cannot enter into contract with the National Back pain Society or any other suitable organisation.
I note that you live in Lode. The journey from home to the new Lady Adrian special school is around 8 miles and Lode to Linton 15 miles. I would suggest any extra mileage to attend a centre of excellence, such that I have described, has got to represent value for money. We have a moral and public responsibility to provide our most disadvantaged youngsters with the best education possible. We intend to do just that!
Thank you for sharing your concerns. I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to manage the transition process in September 2005 in a way that has as its central concern the welfare of the children.
Cabinet Member for Education, Libraries & Heritage
Which is not so good.