A ROW over the proposed closure of a highly successful Hearing Impaired (HI) unit at Medstead Primary School appears to be challenging Hampshire County Council's constitutional structure. According to the county councillor for Alton Rural, Mark Kemp-Gee, this is the first time since its introduction, in line with the 2000 Local Government Act, that HCC's cabinet system has faced such a challenge. "It is providing something of a constitutional conundrum where the will of the members is challenging the will of an executive member," said Mr Kemp-Gee. The 'stand-off' has been brought about by a strong difference of opinion over the future of HI provision at both Medstead and Park View, Basingstoke. According to a unanimous groundswell of cross- party councillors from East Hampshire and Basingstoke and Dean, both are good units which deserve to remain open. "It can't be right to shut down a successful unit just because it doesn't fit into a master plan," argues Mr Kemp-Gee. News of the proposed closures was delivered by the council's executive member for children's services, Felicity Hindson on February 15. It came as a bombshell to parents with HI children at Medstead Primary School who have worked long and hard to put the case for Medstead to Ms Hindson. They are now even more determined to continue the fight to stop the Local Education Authority "axing the best". It appears to them that 13 years of investment, both in time and money, to build an HI 'centre of excellence' at Medstead, has been totally overlooked because the school is not linked with a recognised secondary school provision. Instead, Ms Hindson has decided to look at closing the provision in favour of a new unit at a failing school (working under special measures) in Farnborough. The proposed closure would form part of the council's planned reorganisation of provision for deaf and hearing impaired children in mainstream schools. The rationale is based on a continuity between primary and linked secondary schools (to ensure a consistent peer group), with the creation of 'three pyramids of provision' to serve the north, south and central areas of the county, and the availability of outreach support. At present there are five primary and five senior school-based units in the county, not all with full auditory/oral communication resource, and not all linked. The recommendation would reduce the number to three of each, and despite being fully equipped, with no dedicated feeder provision Medstead has been earmarked to go. So outraged is Mark Kemp-Gee over the decision that he has forced it to be 'called in' by the Children and Young People's Policy Review Committee who have set up a scrutiny panel to review the proposals. He believes that with thousands of houses due to come on line in Alton, Bordon and the surrounding villages within the next few years, there is a definite need for an HI provision at Medstead which could easily be linked to an existing secondary provision in Winchester. According to parents whose children come from as far afield as Fleet and Farnborough to attend the Medstead's unit, they do not believe other units in the area would meet their children's needs. Nor do they hold with the argument that primary HI provision should be linked with an HI supported secondary school. Experience has shown that the often-complex needs of children attending an HI unit mean that pupils interests are not best served by a mainstream secondary school. Medstead already has an associated pre-school where pupils are able to benefit from HI support from day one but, according to parent Caris Stoller, 'most youngsters need more specialised help at secondary level'. Campaigners argue that Medstead School has by far the best academic record of all the schools with HI units in the area – being the only school with above-average SATS results at KS1 and KS2. Parents believe that is what they have in Medstead. They would be unhappy they say to comply with the proposed option to send their children to Manor School at Cove, near Farnborough which, according to Mrs Stoller: "Has, until this year, been openly anti-signing, so the level of expertise and inclusiveness remains minimal." She added: "Parents of deaf children at Medstead are terrified that their children's progress will halt if they are denied the support they are getting at Medstead. None of the parents believe that the alternative provision would meet their children's needs." A HCC spokesman confirmed that Ms Hindson has agreed to a consultation period prior to closure of both the Medstead and Basingstoke units from August 2008. The findings of the scrutiny committee are due to be debated be full council in July.
Parents hit out over HI threats
Thursday 12th April 2007 10:00 pm