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Scope school is 'no longer viable'

Charity talks of specific problems as it closes one school and sells another, but move to inclusive strategy is also a factor. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

One special school is to be closed and another sold off by the charity Scope, which has decided to pursue a policy of greater integration and inclusion.

The charity, which supports people with cerebral palsy, plans to close Trengweath school, in Plymouth, and says it has approached several organisations with a view to selling Beech Tree school, in Preston, as a going concern.

Tony Manwaring, Scope's chief executive, said that, as a matter of principle, the charity was not in favour of segregation, but there were no plans to close any of its other schools "No one will be abandoned nor will their education be abandoned," he said.

"The future will be shaped in dialogue with everyone who is involved in running education in this country. It will be about process, dialogue, partnership and sustainability."

Trengweath has 11 pupils, and provides respite care for a further 22 young people. Scope said there had been a fall in demand for places, and the school was no longer viable.

A merger with nearby Dame Hannah Rogers, a charity school, is being explored. Pupils are being assessed for their suitability for the move.

Local authorities that refer children to Trengweath have been informed.

However, parents have protested at the closure, claiming they are not being given enough time to make alternative arrangements. They fear they will be left without support once the school closes.

Kay O'Shaughnessy, whose daughter Amy, 7, has attended the school and respite care since she was 18 months old, said: "We are devastated. The school has been a lifeline for us, but now we have no assurances about the education of our children or whether they will even be safe in the new school.

"Many families are teetering on the brink because of this. We have hardly had any time to come to terms with what is happening or to plan ahead."

Beech Tree caters for children with profound learning problems and challenging behaviour. Scope trustees say they decided to sell the school to focus on children with cerebral palsy and related medical problems.

Scope, which was formerly known as the Spastics Society, runs seven schools and colleges for 300 disabled children. It said there were 400,000 disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK, and it wanted to reach more of them.

Tony Manwaring said the proposals for Trengweath and Beech Tree came about because of specific problems. The charity's other schools - Craig-y-Parc, Cardiff, Ingfield Manor, West Sussex, Meldreth Manor, near Cambridge, Rutland House, Nottingham, and Beaumont college, Lancaster - are not affected.

"We have to make decisions now about the next generation of provision.

Those schools need reinvestment," he said.

"We had a choice of whether to modernise or do something more radical and fundamental, which necessarily has to be done in partnership with others."

Details of Scope's plans came as the charity announced the appointment of Andy Lusk as director of education and early years. Lusk said: "There are exceptional challenges ahead for Scope and for other providers of services for disabled children and young people that cannot be overcome using the conventions that we have depended upon."

* Visitors to the TES website's eJury poll have shown huge support for stopping the closure of special schools. Overall, 97 of the 117 respondents (82 per cent) at the time of going to press were against closure.

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