Suffolk: Vital school service could face axe
09:00 23 December 2010
EDUCATION chiefs were last night urged to safeguard a vital teaching service for thousands of youngsters suffering from chronic illnesses.
Suffolk County Council is currently looking at the possibility of axing hospital school rooms at Ipswich and West Suffolk.
The service is funded through the education budget and is one of those areas currently being reviewed as the authority looks to tighten the purse strings in the face of Government cuts.
The move was last night strongly criticised by Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who said they should be doing all they could to protect the school rooms.
But Graham Newman, county councillor with responsibility for young people, said they were “completely committed” to running a service of that type - although it might have to be adapted for the 21st century.
Hospital school rooms provide teaching for youngsters who have long-term illnesses - such as leukaemia or chronic asthma - and are out of main stream education for months or even years.
Dr Poulter said the service at Ipswich Hospital teaches an average of 2,200 young people every year.
“It is essential that all local education authorities invest properly in these school rooms and ensure they have permanent staff who can offer children a continuity of care,” he said. “Obviously there have to be some cuts. Getting rid of bureaucracy and red tape - I think that’s something we can all agree with - but to cut a vital service used by the most vulnerable and most sick? Those are the sorts of ones that we need to be keeping.
“The Government has ring fenced the schools’ budget, so there’s no reason whatsoever for that to be cut by the county council.”
Dr Poulter said there was very little outlay for the school room at Ipswich as the hospital let the county council use the room for free while most materials were funded through donations.
“At the moment there are two members of staff - a teacher and a teaching assistant,” he said. “There are minimal over heads. One middle ranking manager at the county council would cost more.”
Mr Newman said the council had no intention of not providing a service for young people who were unable to get to school.
He said they were looking at remodelling the current set up and were in consultation with a number of parties.
“We have a statutory obligation to educate children who cannot get to school,” he said. “This is not a service we will walk away from. We are completely committed to continue to run a service of that type.
“However, we have to bear in mind that although there hasn’t been a cut in the dedicated school grant, the money is worked out according to the number of pupils. The number of pupils in Suffolk is falling, therefore the amount of money coming into the county is falling. We also have to take into account inflationary costs.
“This makes it essential that any service we operate is effective and efficient. The hospital schools service was set up many years ago and it really hasn’t changed very much at all.
“Children, like adults, are spending much less time in hospital than they did a decade ago and more time recuperating at home.
“Because of the concern that has been expressed I have asked for a record of the number of hours taught in hospital schools over the last five years. I think that will show there has been a decline.”