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March 25, 2003

Parents' dilemma

From: Liverpool Echo, UK - Mar 25, 2003

Mar 25 2003

By Claire Stoker Education Reporter

PARENTS may have to send their children to a residential school in Yorkshire if a Merseyside school for deaf children closes.

Birkdale school for hearing impaired children in Southport has only 33 pupils and needs at least 60 to remain open.

It is the only school for hearing impaired children in the north-west which teaches children aurally rather than using sign language.

It takes children from all over Merseyside. But because the government is pushing for more children with special needs to be in mainstream schools, pupil numbers have declined.

Anne Wood, principal of the Lancaster Road school, said: "The inclusion policy is very worthy. But if they are going to retain choices for parents, special schools need to remain.

"My concern is for our pupils. Twenty have already been in mainstream schools and very often have had a very negative experience of mainstream, either being bullied or excluded."

Mrs Wood hopes an education authority will adopt the school, otherwise it could look at taking in children with other special needs to boost numbers.

Kerry Thompson, from Maghull, sends her son John, nine, to Birkdale and fought for several years to get him a place. Now the family could be split up if John has to go to a residential school in Yorkshire.

She said: "I'm broken-hearted at the thought of the school closing.

"The government is setting up specialist schools in everything from drama to sport. But my son didn't choose to be deaf, so why can't he have a specialist school?"

Anne Bateman, from Bootle, has seen her daughter Lyndsey, 15, go from strength to strength at Birkdale. But if the school closes, she will have to go back a year to start GCSEs again.

She said: "We were very lucky to get Lyndsey a place here and she's progressed tremendously.

"To uproot a child at such an important stage is really bad."

Two Birkdale teachers are taking a 5,000-signature petition to 10 Downing Street. A final decision will be made by the school's directors on April 11.

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