Councillors lead push to save school special needs unit

Cambridge Heath Sixth Form

Cambridge Heath Sixth Form will shut, affecting 21 students . Pic: Mike Faherty (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Labour councillors have urged a school to reconsider its decision to close its sixth form special educational needs unit, which has left 21 students in the dark over the future of their education.

The Cambridge Heath Sixth Form Special Educational Needs (SEN) Unit has been facing closure since March this year due to budget cuts imposed by the school. Tower Hamlets Labour Group is calling on the heads and governing bodies of the founding schools Morpeth, Oaklands and Swanlea, as well as Tower Hamlets Council, to persuade the school to rethink the closure.

Councillor Danny Hassel, schools spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Labour Group, put forward a motion at the council meeting on April 15 calling on the mayor and council to support the parents of special needs students.

“We in the Labour Group believe that this borough should be proud of providing high quality support to young people with a range of needs. We are concerned at what seems to be the slow erosion of services for vulnerable young people and their families,” he said.

Parents of the 21 students staged a short protest outside Cambridge Heath on March 24, when they handed a petition to the town hall pleading for the unit to be spared from cuts.

Protester Emma Price told the East London Advertiser: “This is really upsetting our kids who are happy and thriving in the unit. It’s morally wrong. It’s just the special needs unit that they want to close – just 21 kids who really need it.”

The special needs unit started in 2009 at the Wessex Centre. But over the years, it has grown substantially, “to the point where the centre can no longer accommodate and meet the needs of all the students that attend,” said Patrice Canavan, Jemima Reilly and Brenda Landers, head teachers at Oaklands, Morpeth and Swanlea Schools.

Teaching has mostly been moved back to the three founding schools.

“The Foundation Learning Tier is now the only sixth form provision solely based at the Wessex Centre. These are some of our learners who need the most support and the schools no longer feel that their needs are best met through the current model of provision,” said the head teachers.

They have met with parents and staff of the school and proposed the majority of students be moved into Morpeth School from September this year, where they will complete their course.

The schools are working with families to support the rest of the students to transition to adult social care.

In response to the motion put forward by Labour, Tower Hamlets Council has noted that parents were not consulted over the closure of the unit and that there was only very “belated discussion over alternative arrangements for the continuing education of individual children”.

The council has resolved to call on the school’s authorities to reconsider the decision and to request officers to engage with the college to explore support for the SEN Unit and provide “proactive support” to the families affected.

Councillor Marc Francis said: “These 21 young people with special educational needs have as much right to further education as any other youngster. It is really frustrating that it has taken so long, but I am pleased that our motion finally helped persuade the mayor to press the heads of Morpeth, Oaklands and Swanlea to think again and retain the SEN Unit.”

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