School will close despite campaign

PARENTS have lost their bitter struggle to force education chiefs to reverse a decision to keep open a school that caters for their children's special needs.

PARENTS have lost their bitter struggle to force education chiefs to reverse a decision to keep open a school that caters for their children's special needs.

Campaigners yesterday expressed their “extreme” disappointment over a ruling by an independent adjudicator to endorse a move to shut down the 120-pupil Leas School in Clacton.

Dr Elizabeth Passmore, of the independent Office of the Schools Adjudicator, said yesterday she was “persuaded” that Essex County Council had kept “good provision for the children” at the forefront of their plans.

The LEA announced in April that it wanted to shut the specialist Leas School at the end of August 2005 and transfer all existing pupils, who suffer from moderate learning disabilities, to other sites.

It caused an outcry in the community and led to angry confrontations with education chiefs at County Hall with more than 5,000 people signing a petition saying “Hands off Leas School”.

Parents claimed their children would be adversely affected by the closure, both educationally and socially.

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Yesterday's decision means that from September next year, many pupils might be forced to attend Clacton's Windsor School for children with severe learning needs or specially-adapted accommodation at the newly-built Bishop's Park College.

Dr Passmore, who visited all three sites on September 10 said parents' anxiety was understandable, but, in her report, added: “The expertise of staff at The Leas would be harnessed through their transfer to one or other of the schools and I am not persuaded that the standards achieved by the pupils would be adversely affected.”

She said she had considered complaints about an alleged lack of consultation over the closure plans, but she was “convinced” views had been sought.

She added: “The consultation has been exhaustive and has met legal requirements even if there have been some unfortunate lapses in parts of the process.”

However, Paul Honeywood, chairman of the Leas Parents Action Group, said the fight for his 10-year-old child's education, would go on.

He said: “We're bitterly disappointed and also surprised at the decision, but we still think there's some hope.

“We're already talking to legal advisers about what we can do next. I've told my son, but he wants to stay at the school – he's happy there.”

Harwich MP Ivan Henderson said he would write to Education Secretary Charles Clarke suggesting that he ask Essex County Council to agree a further consultation process before any decision is implemented.

But he added: “Because the adjudicator is independent of political interference, the Secretary of State cannot alter the decision.”

Tracey Chapman, the county council's cabinet member for children and families, said she was pleased with the decision to uphold the authority's plans.

“The decision to uphold the LEA proposals means that we can now move forward to plan and meet the wide range of needs and rightful expectations of children and young adults with special educational needs in Tendring well into the future.

“We look forward to working with parents and staff from the three schools. The proposals, both in terms of the design of the new model school and the mainstream supported places at Bishop's Park College, are based on considerable research, including the views of young people with special educational needs themselves, and are supported by the governing bodies of the three existing schools.”

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