Parents and workers are furious at news that a school for vulnerable children is set to close—and say the decision is about money.
Crossley Manor School in Rainhill, Merseyside, is set to close at the end of term. The move will severely disrupt the lives of children with autism and other special educational needs, and leave them with nowhere to go.
One staff member told Socialist Worker, “We feel the closure of the school is simply a business move due to low pupil numbers not bringing in enough revenue from local authority funding, and plans for alternative use for the building.”
The worker pointed out that it’s good to teach children with extra needs in schools that have relatively low numbers.
“Some of these children have waited well over a year for a place at this school,” they continued. “Parents are very upset and beside themselves with worry. Family plans and holidays are being thrown into chaos.”
Some parents have denounced the move as a “failed experiment playing with children’s lives”. One challenged the firm on Facebook. “It seems our children weren’t making you enough money, but they cannot just be cast aside with no regard,” said Donna Lunt.
“You are denying them their right to an education.”
The closure will create distress and confusion for vulnerable children. And it won’t be straightforward for them to simply find alternative schools. Steve Lunt said his son Christopher “had lots of problems in mainstream school and went to a couple before being excluded as they couldn’t meet his needs”.
“This is going to be a massive upheaval.”
Crossley Manor is run by private health firm Elysium Healthcare. It announced the decision just weeks before the planned closure.
The worker said, “All staff are to be made redundant from 24 July. All feel abandoned and without any support in finding alternative employment.
“One child wanted to give his birthday money to the school so it would stay open for him.”
This child, Charlie Cheshire, had waited more than 16 and a half months to attend the school. His mother Susan told a local newspaper that the school’s closure would leave Charlie “isolated, scared and confused”.
“He thinks it’s his fault because of how he processes things,” she said. “He couldn’t read or write before he went there and now he can, because of the amazing work by staff.
“He doesn’t want to go to another school. With his needs, he finds it hard to cope with change. It already took 20 months to get him comfortable to go there in the taxi—it’s going to be new changes all over again.
Marie Rimmer, Labour MP for St Helens South and Whiston, has blamed government education funding. She said the Tories have “failed to give local authorities the resources required” to support children outside mainstream schools.
Elysium all about profit
Elysium Healthcare was formed in December 2016 through a merger of Partnerships in Care and the Priory Group.
It is owned by the private equity firm BC Partners.
Elysium calls itself a “provider of specialist health and care services”.
It has rapidly expanded, sucking up contracts to deliver key services to vulnerable people.
These saw its revenue soar to £176.8 million in 2017.
A company report in 2017/18 said, “Although Elysium entered the market with 22 sites, a strategic acquisition plan quickly grew the group to over 50 sites in five core divisions.”
Its “acquisitions” included Raphael Healthcare, Badby Group, Stanley House, Broadham Care, Ann House, Gregory House, The Limes and Lighthouse Healthcare.
And its five divisions are Mental Health and Wellbeing, Neurological Services, Learning Disabilities and Autism, Children and Education and Private Patient Services.
The firm says it aims to “give children and young people the right care at the right time in the right place”.
“Our objective is to enable children and young people to be healthy, confident and happy living in their community,” it adds.
Parents challenge heartless cuts through courts
Parents have launched a High Court challenge to government funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).
The challenge could lead to a ruling that the Tories’ last autumn budget was not set lawfully and left children without the support they need.
The court heard that lack of support for Send children risks “blighting their rights forever”.
Jenni Richards QC said chancellor Philip Hammond and education secretary Damian Hinds have acted unlawfully and created a “genuine crisis”.
Richards said Hammond acted unlawfully when setting the budget in October last year, and Hinds acted unlawfully by refusing to increase funding in December.
“The direct result is that children are not being properly educated, notwithstanding the fact that parliament has required their needs to be met,” she continued.
“The critical underfunding means the most vulnerable may not even receive the basic educational provision they require”.
Parents gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London as the case got underway last Wednesday.
Parents said their children were being “overlooked” and being denied their “human rights”.
Government changes have put more pressure on councils—while funding cuts mean they have less money.
Until 2014 councils were responsible for children with special needs up to the age of 18, but this then rose to the age of 25.
Three families who have children with special needs are fighting the court case.
Solicitor Anne-Marie Irwin said it was the first time the government has been taken to court over its Send funding decisions.
Parent Kirsty, whose son Benedict has struggled to access support for mental health issues, said the problems are “being caused at the top”.
“We are determined to ensure the government is held to account,” she said.
Support staff jobs slashed
New figures have shown that the number of teaching assistants in English secondary schools has fallen by four percent in just one year.
Around 2,500 teaching assistant posts have gone.
The GMB union said the cuts were putting the future of an entire generation of children at risk.
GMB national officer Nadine Houghton said, “Without support staff, children with additional needs will be left without the specialist support they need.”