THE heart-wrenching pleas of parents and teaching staff of a Wirral special needs school were not enough to convince councillors who tonight backed plans to consult on the school’s closure.
Councillors heard stories from parents of pupils at the Lyndale School during an emotional three-and-a-half hour meeting today, Thursday.
The council’s co-ordinating committee met at Wirral Town Hall to look again at the decision to consult on the closure of the Eastham school, which was made by the ruling cabinet in January.
The review was scheduled after opposition councillors – who described closing the school as an “act of educational vandalism” – used their call-in procedure to delay the decision.
A drop in pupil numbers and a change in funding has been cited as the reason for Lyndale’s closure threat, but parents believe it should be saved no matter what, due to its importance in the lives of its 24 pupils.
Parents Zoe Anderson, Rochelle Smith and Emma Howlett addressed the committee - along with teaching assistants Faye Starr and Nikki Kenny - and expressed their fears and concerns at not only the decision to look at closing the school, but also the way the process had been carried out.
Ms Anderson, whose daughter Lily attends Lyndale, said she had “lost faith” in the process and did not feel confident that her child would be safe in any other school.
Parents also said they felt Lyndale was not being offered to prospective parents which, with the uncertainty that has surrounded the school for close to eight years, is causing pupil numbers to drop even further.
Committee member Cllr Leah Fraser said she agreed and said: “If parents don’t know about Lyndale how can they choose it? You can’t choose a school that you have not been told about.”
Julia Hassall, Wirral’s director of children services said she was not aware of prospective parents not being told about Lyndale but said that if this was the case, it would be looked into.
Despite such concerns, the council’s co-ordinating committee decided by nine votes to six to back the cabinet’s decision, with committee chair Cllr Steve Foulkes stating he would ensure the consultation was carried out in an “open, transparent, thorough and inclusive manner”.
He said he felt the consultation was the right starting point to ending the uncertainty at Lyndale.
Councillor Tony Smith, cabinet member for education, thanked parents who gave evidence but said he believed consulting on the school’s future was the best option.
He said: “The numbers at Lyndale have been decreasing over the last six to eight years.
“I have not got a fixed opinion on what is the right option in this situation and want to hear from all of the stakeholders and people who can contribute in any way to the consultation – we want to look at all options.”
Chair of governors and Lib Dem Councillor Tom Harney – who called in the decision – described the outcome as “a shambles” and believed the papers put forward for consultation were inadequate.
Following the meeting, Lyndale parent Zoe Anderson told the Globe she was not surprised with the decision.
She said: “We have always believed it is a foregone conclusion but we are glad that we got to say our bit and give our opinions in public.
"We are also pleased that the concerns we had about the consultation being open and transparent have actually been received and reassurances given to ensure that is the case."
What has happened since the closure threat was first announced in December?
December 12: Wirral Council announced it was “minded” to close the school.
December 16: A petition to save the school reaches 3,000 signatures (it now has 6,428).
December 20: Parents ask the council for more time before a report is submitted to cabinet.
January 16: Wirral’s ruling cabinet agrees to consult on the closure of Lyndale.
January 21: Tory lead describes closing Lyndale as an "act of educational vandalism".
January 29: Opposition councillors “call-in” the decision and ask for it to be reviewed.
February 4: Call-in meeting cancelled after bureaucratic bungling means council is in breach of its own constitution.
February 11: Education Secretary Michael Gove pledges his support for the school.
February 14: Wirral South MP Alison McGovern chairs a public meeting over Lyndale’s future.
February 27: Co-ordinating committee uphold cabinet’s decision in rearranged call-in meeting.