Special needs staff changes are defended

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A COUNTY councillor has defended a plan to cut the number of educational support staff at a special school.

Rutland County Council has come under fire because it is cutting the number of staff at The Parks School in Barleythorpe Road, Oakham, when it moves to the new Oakham CE Primary School site in August.

The council says it is changing the way it deals with children with special educational needs in line with national policy as parents want their children to go to mainstream schools.

Neighbouring councils have also stopped sending children to The Parks. The council has also put at risk the jobs of between eight and 10 staff in the special educational needs unit, based at the council offices, as it seeks to reduce its spending.

When The Parks School relocates in August, as part of the £7.6m Little Build development, the number of staff will drop to six.

The existing 19 staff includes outreach staff, who provide support to the mainstream primary schools.

County council’s portfolio holder for children’s services Heather Wells (Con) said: “This is not a kneejerk reaction but a long-term planned approach to improving special educational needs care for children.

“The care and support for the children is still as important, it’s just delivered in a different way to the previous years.”

Coun Wells said there was also specialist provision at Oakham CE Primary and Catmose College and teachers in mainstream schools were better able to cope with a range of needs.

But Audrey Pesce, 73, of Stamford Road, Oakham, is concerned this move could mean children with special needs don’t get the support they need. Her teenage granddaughter, who has severe autism, attended The Parks when she was younger and now goes to a school in Lincolnshire.

She said: “My granddaughter would never cope if they put her in a mainstream school. She relies on that specialist support.

“Staff at schools like The Parks know how to deal with these children and you have got to have specially trained staff. I don’t think the county council has properly considered how this will affect these children. It is targeting the most vulnerable.”

The Parks has five pupils but there will be capacity for 10 at the new school.

Parks governors’ vice chairman Jim Telling said: “The children who need the help the most are being deserted.”

Pia Kerridge and Dorothy Spence, joint headteachers of The Parks, said in a statement: “We regret these inevitable changes in funding have resulted in a staff reduction but are optimistic the council will do all it can to ensure continued support for children with special educational needs.”

Oakham CE Primary and The Parks will be run as a federation with one headteacher and two governing bodies.