UPDATED: School that touched the hearts of Wirral Globe readers is facing closure (From Wirral Globe)
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UPDATED: School that touched the hearts of Wirral Globe readers is facing closure
A special needs school which touched the hearts of Globe readers in a massive fund-raising campaign is facing closure.
Our readers raised more than £80,000 to provide the Lyndale School in Eastham with a sensory garden and other features designed to improve the life of its profoundly disabled youngsters.
Today Wirral Council announced it is "minded" to shut it down.
Julia Hassall, Wirral’s director of children’s services, said: "Last week, I met the headteacher of Lyndale School, and its chair and vice-chair of governors.
"I informed them that, with regret, we are minded to ask cabinet in January for permission to consult on the closure of the school.
"Closing a school is always distressing, and we would only put this forward if we felt we had explored all other options.
"I would like to emphasise that closure is not being considered because of standards at the school.
"Its most recent Ofsted inspection described it as well led and managed, and said that the atmosphere was extremely positive.
"The reasons why we have come to this position are that there has been a falling roll at the school over the last seven years, and recent changes to the government funding mechanism means the financial viability of the school is at risk.
"We will consult and work with parents and families at all stages of the process, to ensure that the outcome of any decision made, will be carefully managed with all those concerned."
Ms Hassall said that based on current projections, the school is expected to see a funding shortfall of £70,000 for 2014/15 which may increase in future years.
In 2003, Wirral Globe readers took Lyndale to their hearts.
Led by this newspaper, an appeal was launched to provide the children with a sensory garden.
The campaign really struck a chord and an astonishing £80,000 flooded in - in under 18 months.
It seemed almost everyone wanted to become involved.
Local bands staged a "Rocking for Lyndale" concert attended by the Mayor of Wirral, Patricia Williams, school children held sponsored silences, an elderly pensioner sent us a postal order for £10.
Literally thousands of our readers individually donated sums ranging from five to several hundred pounds, Children in Need gave the school a cheque for £25,000, and the Globe's American parent company Gannett gave £15,000 from its charitable foundation.
Cherie Blair praised the fundraising efforts after she visited Lyndale and saw plans for the sensory garden in February, 2004.
The then-Prime Minister's wife spent an hour at the school touring the building with head teacher Pat Stewart - awarded an OBE for services to special needs education in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1999.
Mrs Blair watched as staff conducted physiotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions in the soft play area and pool before helping youngsters decorate a gingerbread man.
She was treated to a wheelchair dancing display in the hall and then accepted gifts from the children including cards, flowers and a specially-made book for her son Leo.
Later she had a special word for Globe readers: "People have made a wonderful effort to raise funds for this project. It's so nice to see newspapers - especially local newspapers - really doing something for the community.
"It's been marvellous to see the children here reaching their full potential. I've seen kids in the hydrotherapy pool floating free in a way that they don't otherwise get the chance.
"To be honest, when I think of what I have to do - and I think of what some of the mothers I have met here do, and some of the women here have two children in this school - my problems are nothing in comparison."
In 2010 Lyndale was crowned winner of the Epilepsy Action education award for its work in supporting pupils with the condition. The school was presented with its "Edward" award by Wirral South MP Alison McGovern.
That same year, headteacher Mrs Stewart explained that even though the Globe campaign had "offcially" come to an end some five years ago, friends and supporters made during its run kept the money flooding in.
So much so, in fact, that the school was able to build a musical garden for the children.
Mrs Stewart said at the time: "The musical garden is a direct result of the generosity of all those people.
"The Globe's readers have made an massive impact on this school and helped improve the lives of so many children, and we are still so grateful for their continued support."
Globe editor Leigh Marles was invited to open the new garden feature, and said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony: "It seems the Lyndale School and the work done by its teachers, support staff and volunteers to help so many children has earned a very special place in the hearts of Wirral people."
Wirral Council leader councillor Phil Davies said today the decision to consult on closure centered around the Coalition Government's changes to funding criteria.
He said: “Lyndale is a fantastic school and does an absolutely fantastic job for the kids that it looks after who have got profound multiple disabilities.
“The problem that we have got is not to do with the standards of the teaching or anything to do with education.
"They have had a pretty consistent falling roll, and the problem we have got is one of viability.
"I think they are down to 24 children on the roll and there are 40 places. There is a big funding shortfall of £70,000 next year.”
Councillor Davies said changes to Government funding means that from next year, money will be allocated for each child, rather than for the number of places a school has.
“That is going to be a big issue,” he said.
“It is very sad but given the sort of shortfall we are looking at, there is just a big question mark about its ongoing viability.
“We will carry out consultation properly in January with parents, staff, families and the wider community because people need to be able to understand the issues, and I fully support that.
“It is with a heavy heart that we do this, but it is about the viability of the school going forward.”
Conservative group opposition leader Cllr Jeff Green said: "This is indeed a very sad day.
"Lyndale is a highly-valued, unique and safe place for our most vulnerable children.
"The council under Labour has floated any number of tentative 'fishing expeditions' to test the waters for closing down Lyndale over the last five years or so.
"Each time they've backed away from it.
"I sincerely hope they back away from it again now."
Eastham ward councillor Phil Gilchrist, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "When I was told about this idea I asked ‘Where is the alternative, and how can you guarantee that it will be the same or better?’
"This cannot be about numbers or accounts, but about quality of service.
"Each child is unique. Every child there needs the care that the school provides, generous and unstinting work I have seen first hand over the years.
"It is only a few months since the ward councillors visited the school with the chief executive to see this first-hand.
"The parents must be entirely satisfied that the needs of their children can be fully met. There must be no upheaval and disruption."
Wirral South MP Alison McGovern said: "I have seen a list of options from the council, and I think Wirral needs to genuinely and properly assess all of them before leaping to the conclusion that closure is the only one.
"The children at Lyndale School have complex and highly-important needs, so I will be supporting their parents to make sure these are all understood in detail, before any decision is reached.
"We must make sure we have the highest possible standards of education for the children at Lyndale."
The mum of a profoundly ill child at the school telephoned the Globe today.
Asking not to be named, she said: "My child absolutely relies upon Lyndale.
"Almost every child at the school also attends Claire House Hospice.
"There is nowhere like Lyndale in Wirral, or anywhere else as far as I know.
"I am so determined we will not lose it.
"It's all about cutting costs. No one has said the school is failing in any way - they wouldn't dare.
"It's a familiar story - the council knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing."
Globe readers who donated so generously to help the Lyndale children might agree.
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