Mums accuse Prescott of "betrayal"

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorANGRY mothers have confronted the Deputy Prime Minister over the plight of their children, who are being forced to leave a special needs school because it is being closed.

ANGRY mothers have confronted the Deputy Prime Minister over the plight of their children, who are being forced to leave a special needs school because it is being closed.

Ann Conroy and Helen Ward tackled John Prescott yesterday as he paid a visit to Jaywick and told him they had been "betrayed".

They said the closure of the Leas School in Clacton would have a devastating impact on their children and challenged him to get the decision reversed.

But Mr Prescott, who was on a General Election campaign visit to the Sure Start scheme at Hemmington House, said the decision was nothing to do with the Government, but had been taken by the Conservative-controlled Essex County Council.

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Mrs Conroy, of Rosemary Road West, Clacton, whose seven year-old son Ryan has Fragile X syndrome, said he would have to go into mainstream education, leaving a school that catered for his needs and where he was happy.

"We moved to Clacton to be near the school, but it is being closed. Mr Prescott showed no interest - all he is here for is nice photographs," she added.

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Mrs Ward, of Fairclough Avenue, Clacton, has a 10 year-old autistic son called Joseph who will now go to Windsor School in Clacton.

"His condition is not so severe that he has to go to a school catering for severe special needs. He's happy at The Leas, it's a great school, and it's terrible that it is closing," she said.

Ivan Henderson, who has been Harwich's Labour MP for the past eight years and is seeking re-election, put the blame firmly on the school's closure on Conservative-controlled Essex County Council.

"Control of how many pupils with moderate learning difficulties go to special schools is down to county hall and not the Government," he said.

"It's not in the Government's interests to close special schools, but it is to the financial advantage of the county council, which can gain from selling off the land."

He added: "Show me one scrap of paper that says the Government is forcing this closure. There is none. It is the choice of Tory county councillors that this school is going."

"The Secretary of State for Education cannot intervene. The last line of appeal is through an independent schools adjudicator, who disappointingly has ruled in favour of Essex County Council."

But Douglas Carswell, the Conservative candidate for Harwich, said he was angry that parents were being fobbed off by the Labour Party.

"The Leas School is not being closed by the county council through its own choice. The decision has been forced on it by the Government under the 2001 Education Act, which Mr Henderson voted for," he added.

"Labour is the author and the architect of this Act, which places an obligation on education authorities to integrate special needs children. It's happening all over England."

The other declared election candidates for Harwich are Keith Tully (Liberal Democrat), Jeffrey Titford (UK Independence Party) and John Tipple (Respect).

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