Socialist Worker

‘Private companies only care about money’—parents and children devastated by closure of special needs school

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2664

Crossley Manor school

Crossley Manor school


The closure of a special school in Merseyside has plunged vulnerable children into despair—and put their health at risk.

Crossley Manor school in Rainhill caters for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. The school is run by multinational Elysium Healthcare, which made a pre-tax profit of £9.4 million in 2017, the same year Crossley Manor opened.

It is set to close on Wednesday of next week—yet parents were only informed on 17 June. They say money is being put before the needs of vulnerable children.

Donna and Steve’s 11 year old son has autism and severe epilepsy. Donna told Socialist Worker, “Elysium wanted the school to fail because it can make more money if the site is a secure inpatient unit. Why has Elysium installed a £250,000 fence for the safety of the children after it announced the school was to close?

“It said the school isn’t financially viable due to low pupil numbers. But it hasn’t been advertised properly and Elysium has refused referrals.

“It said the buildings aren’t suitable. How was it suitable to open a school there in the first place? People aren’t getting the care they need because private companies only care about money.”

Steve added, “I think Elysium just wanted to let the dust settle because there had been objections to having a secure mental health facility there. I believe the school was used as a smokescreen.

“Elysium says it’s sorry the school is closing—it’s not sorry at all. Everything has been underhand.”

Distressed

Sarah’s 11 year old son is so distressed at the news that he hasn’t been able to return to school. “He’s been at home for three weeks,” Sarah told Socialist Worker. “It’s the uncertainty of where his future lies. It’s too upsetting. What had made him happy is now making him sad.

“He’s been passed from pillar to post all his life. Now he’s thinking, ‘This is another place that doesn’t want me—it’s my fault.’”

Steve said his son’s anxiety levels “seem to have gone through the roof” since the announcement. “He’s been telling the staff that he’s going to miss them,” said Steve. “After next week he doesn’t have a school.

“The children had all waited between nine months and two years to find that placement because no others were available.”

Donna said the situation has been “heartbreaking”. “Many children have already had several placements,” she said. “They feel rejected. For the school to close like it has adds to the damage.”

Crossley Manor had helped children who had struggled in other schools to thrive. Donna’s son had faced several exclusions in mainstream schools that couldn’t cope with his needs. “When my son was in mainstream, his behaviour could be terrible,” she said.

“A lot of the behaviours were partly due to epilepsy and partly to sensory overload. Since being at Crossley Manor he’s been so much calmer and happier. Staff love him. He’s achieving and has gained a lot of confidence.”

I don’t think private companies should be able to open special educational needs schools at all

For Sarah, this is precisely why the closure will harm the children so badly. “Everything that the school was doing for my son was right,” she explained. “He was settling in. He thought he’d be there until he was 19.

“He’s been treated quite badly in previous placements. So it took him a lot of work to get that established relationship bond. Now it’s been ripped away and we’re back to square one.”

Parents are furious that they were given just a few weeks’ notice of the closure. Steve said, “Elysium must have known about this well before they told us.

“It is supposed to care about health, but it’s all marketing nonsense. Its core business is mental health. But it has just destroyed a load of children’s and staff’s lives.”

Parents and children now face months of uncertainty as they search for new placements. Donna explained how one option is a school that isn’t sure it could deal with her son’s epilepsy and is 45 minutes away.

“My son sometimes has to go to A&E because his epilepsy is so severe,” she said. “Currently the A&E is five or ten minutes away. If he was at the other school, how would he get there in time? It would be putting him at risk.”

Sarah added, “I’ve tried several places and been told he’s too complex, we can’t accommodate him. If nothing is sorted out, I’m going to have to home school him. And that isn’t fair.”

Uncertainty

The uncertainty is making children’s mental health problems worse. “They’ve got all the summer holidays with anxiety and worry,” said Sarah.

“They’re going to see their brothers and sisters preparing to go back to school and they won’t be. They won’t have uniforms to go and buy.”

When Donna contacted the Department for Education (DfE), she was told that it had “no power to intervene” as Crossley Manor is an independent school. “Independent schools are free to make their own decisions,” the DfE said.

“This includes freedoms to decide to close the school.”

Steve said, “It is infuriating that they’re allowed to do it. With private companies, there’s zero protection.”

Now Donna wants to get private firms out of special schools altogether. “I want to get a change in the law,” she said. “Why let private companies open schools when they can just close them?”

Sarah agreed. “I don’t think private companies should be able to open special educational needs schools at all,” she said. “The idea that they put service users at the forefront of everything they do is bollocks.

“Opening a school on the site was never about the children. They don’t care. It’s all about money.

“I wrote to the CEO and said my child might be a walking pound sign to you, but to me and the staff he is a lot more than that.”

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