Lynne Featherstone: View from the House

Bits of information find their way to my door. And a letter fell into my hands which has sent alarm bells ringing – loud and clear. They are ringing because I ve seen the pattern before. Haringey are short of funding. The special needs budget is in troub

Bits of information find their way to my door. And a letter fell into my hands which has sent alarm bells ringing - loud and clear.

They are ringing because I've seen the pattern before. Haringey are short of funding. The special needs budget is in trouble.

Haringey sees a way to cut costs. Haringey doesn't want to be seen to be closing a good school for deaf children.

So Haringey makes out that the school isn't viable - in this case that the pupil numbers aren't there - by fair means or foul.


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And then - of course - if pupil levels are dropping the school is not financially viable. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy!

It reminds me of when we had to fight to save Muswell Hill library. The council reduced the hours it was open, so book borrowing fell because it was never open.

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Then they pointed to lack of use as a reason to close it. That's the methodology, happily in this case saved by a volte-face in the face of campaigning by local users, friends of the library and a fortuitous Muswell Hill ward by-election.

Let's just set the scene briefly. Blanche Nevile school is a great model for educating deaf kids. Deaf children are taught both on their own so that their special needs can be catered for, but also alongside children in mainstream schools. This is managed because the 26 Blanche Nevile primary children are on the same site as Highgate Primary and the 40 Blanche Nevile secondary school age children are educated on the Fortismere Secondary site.

I went to Highgate Primary recently and saw this in action myself. I was talking to the children on the schools council about recycling and global warming etc - and it was a mix of Blanche Nevile and Highgate Primary children. And they were just children.

The hearing were completely at ease with the non-hearing, and vice-versa. Because there wasn't just one deaf child - but lots - it was not so unusual and there was genuine and heart-warming inclusion.

Good not just for the deaf kids, but also I suspect for the non-deaf too - giving them a much better understanding of how life is full of all sorts of variety - and an understanding that people who are different are still people too.

Blanche Nevile achieves both special education and inclusion. And the children work together on subjects such as art and drama, etc but separately for maths, English and so on.

It works really well because if you are a deaf child being on your own in a mainstream class can be lonely and isolating - and not being able to hear means you have to have special support in each class you attend.

So you need both to be with other deaf children for the difficult and special learning bits and to not feel alone and also the inclusion bits - because the world is full of people not like you.

Blanche Nevile was achieving this happy mix - a 'model of good practice' according to the Department for Education.

Yet when the school was left without a head, instead of the c supporting the school and the children and the staff, it had a string of temporary heads without experience of working with the deaf.

Parents were constantly told the school was under review - with storm clouds and doubt hanging over its future. With all this - and with Blanche Nevile school not being clearly signposted on the council website and not listed in the "children with disabilities" section - and on top of that with Haringey stopping testing for deaf infants for some time - pupil numbers did drop. Quel surprise!

So - I have written to Haringey to ask what on earth is going on. As far as I can ascertain the council letter that crossed my path contains extremely questionable justification for the department's actions. I want to challenge the statements in the letter.

And the really important issue in all of this is the children. The question we need to ask is: will they be better off than they are now if Blanch Nevile is closed?

q Lynne Featherstone is MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

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