Agenda item

Questions from the Public


(1)          Mr. D. Smith asked were party politics more important than the rights and opinions of the Councillors’ constituents?


The Leader reported that all Members of the Council should ensure that the interests of their constituents were at the forefront of their considerations.


In a supplementary question Mr. Smith referred to discussions in Parish Council meetings about the Core Strategy and comments by some Members of the Council about doing a deal with the Leader to vote against a decision when really they should have abstained. It would appear that the political party was more important than the lives of people that elected them.


The Leader did not pass comment.


(2)   Mr. B. Cutts referred to the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11.00 a.m. when the principal flag was not lowered for the two minutes’ silence.  The dignitaries were placed at low level on the pavement, not at the Minster level as in the past and asked why did the Council illustrate such a lack of “National Pride”?


The Leader explained this Council did display a great deal of national pride, and was extremely supportive of current and past servicemen and women, as evidenced by the signing of the Armed Forces Covenant and the Remembrance Day event itself.


In terms of the flag, it was not national practice to lower the flag for Armistice Day as half-mast was an act of mourning not of remembrance.


In a supplementary question Mr. Cutts found the response bewildering as he had observed some of the flags being lowed on Armistice Day, but not the principal flag.


The Mayor confirmed the Council had a flag policy which was adhered to and protocol followed.


(3)  Ms. L. Day was not in attendance so her question was not asked.


(4)  Ms. C. Carrol asked why did the Council allow poor management at Abbey School for such a prolonged period of time?


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services confirmed that after the Local Authority became aware of poor Leadership and management following a review in January 2013 it sought to supplement the leadership and management of the school through an Executive Head Teacher, a new Head of School, and a review of governance. Current management arrangements were strong (partnership with Winterhill seen as a strength in the Ofsted Report) but have not had sufficient time to move things forward.


In a supplementary question Ms. Carrol referred to the Ofsted report and the position with the new management now being in place, which had led to the school losing all its structure totally.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services referred to the Ofsted report which talked about the collaboration with Winterhill, which was seen as a strength in terms of management and leadership, but which led to a disconnect with staffing levels in the school.


(5)  Mr. V.  Housley asked were all the Teachers/Management SEN trained and if not why were they allowed to teach children when they did not know how to deal with their problems and they were having to restrain them. Was this not a safeguarding issue?


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services confirmed the vast majority of the current leadership/teaching structure was made up of staff from a special school background or with SEN expertise and experience.


The Head of School, Deputy and Behaviour and Safety Leader were all from Special School backgrounds.  Both Leaders of Learning have led SEN in mainstream schools.  There was one new Teaching Assistant appointed to the structure who was qualified in Child Development and all the others were existing staff.


In a supplementary question Mr. Housley asked why teachers with over sixty years experience were forced out and if they spoke out disciplinary action would have been taken.  It was suggested that this be looked at.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services confirmed all matters would be looked at as part of the Independent Review.


(6)  Mr. P. McLachlan asked why little or no transition arrangements were in place for the children being moved from the school at present, how could this be deemed to be acceptable, considering the needs of the children and the shambles of the transition arrangements after the restructure and the distress caused?”


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services explained that good transition from one school to another was essential to ensure the well-being of the pupils and to ensure parents were happy with the arrangements.  Transition arrangements were being managed by the Council’s SEN Team.  Individual conversations were being had with parents, Abbey School and the receiving school and being overseen by the Interim Executive Board.


All arrangements for the children were secure and being done to meet the individual needs of the pupils and in consultation with parents and receiving school.  No move would take place as a result of parents or carers being pressurised into changing schools.  All staff involved in the transition process appreciated the difficulty faced by children who were being moved, particularly, if they were leaving friends and staff who they have enjoyed working with.


All matters and areas of concern that had been highlighted would be looked at as part of the Independent Review.


A number of positive responses had also been received from parents and carers of children who had already moved schools.


In a supplementary statement Mr. McLachlan confirmed he was not surprised that some parents were happy with their children moving schools as the school was being driven into the ground.  More proactive action should have been taken to move children from Pupil Referral Units and even following assurances at a public meeting parents were phoned the same day about moving their children.  Every effort should be made to keep the school open and not being deliberately driven into the ground as children with special educational needs were now being put at risk and this was a disgrace.


(7)  Mr. L. Simpson asked why was it that all the advice that the management team have been given to help to turn the school around had been ignored, why had this not been investigated?”


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services explained that the advice that has been given to the school had been wide ranging and many aspects of this advice had been taken up by the school.  However, it was disappointing that this had not resulted in rapid improvement in the school.   The new Director of Children’s Services, Ian Thomas, had commissioned an external review, which would identify the barriers to improvement that had prevented rapid improvement in the school.


All the issues raised would be included in the scope of the Independent Review that was being commissioned.  The Independent Review would be looking into the circumstances leading up to the schools demise.  This would be led by a Special Educational Needs Expert, from outside the Borough, who was leading two special schools that were outstanding and was due to be concluded by 26th January, 2015.


In a supplementary question Mr. Simpson asked if the views of Trades Unions would be taken into account as some of the advice had been ignored and again referred to the Ofsted report which judged the management team to be “inadequate”.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services confirmed all stakeholders would be consulted as part of this Independent Review.


(8)  Mr. F. Sprauge referred to the report to Cabinet Member dated 8th December, 2014 where it stated that “Following the proposed closure of Abbey School the site will be utilised for education purposes.” and asked could he be informed what exactly this meant?”


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services explained that under DfE requirements any education land and premises that were surplus e.g. due to closure/transfer etc. must firstly be considered by the Local Authority for other educational use or if there was no intended use by the Local Authority it must be offered to Academies and Free Schools within the Borough for use by the respective Trust. Only at the point of no educational interest or use by educational establishments could the site be considered for alternative use.


As the proposal to close Abbey school was a ‘proposal’ and currently in the early stages of pre-statutory consultation at this stage, it would be inappropriate for the Local Authority to be considering alternative use.


In a supplementary question Mr. Sprauge pointed out that if the school should close and the site was used for other educational purposes, i.e. another special school or by Winterhill, then this would not be received very well by the stakeholders of Abbey School.


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services pointed out that as part of the consultation process all parties could express their views.


(9)  Mr. I. Cammock pointed out that in a meeting last month, it was stated that there was a need for more special school places because of an increase in the number of children needing such places as a justification to expand Kelford School and asked why was the Council, therefore, wiping out the places offered by Abbey School?


The Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services confirmed this would be considered as part of the Independent Review.