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June 15, 2004

Deaf Unit Row Head 'Abused'

From: South Devon Herald Express - Torquay,England,UK - Jun 15, 2004

A Bay headteacher has broken ranks to blast his own bosses - for keeping him in the dark on a review of special needs provision.

His revelations caused uproar at a public meeting and Bay councillors have promised to get answers from the local education authority.

Alan Lock, the head of St Margaret's Primary School, shocked a public meeting about the future of the school's deaf unit with his outburst, calling the review a "shambles" and said he had been "abused" by Torbay LEA.

He told the meeting, chaired by Torbay Council's member for learning Cllr Chris Lomas: "This special needs review was a shambles.

"Mike Stewart (head of Westlands) wasn't even invited to contribute to it, even though he has a hearing support centre at Westlands.

"Having been to the three review meetings, I got a phone call from the authority saying that the recommendation was to close the hearing support centre here.

"Having been on the panel I should have known about that, shouldn't I?

"Who made that decision? Where did it come from?

"I feel used and abused. I sat through three meetings and at the end of it there was a recommendation I would never have allowed.

"What was the point?"

Frances Billinge, the LEA director responsible for special needs, was forced to admit that the proposal had been inserted into the draft review by a consultant brought in from outside the Bay.

"We employed a consultant to do the special needs review and this was the recommendation that was put forward," she said.

Cllr Lomas said he would take personal charge of finding out what had happened.

He told Mr Lock and the meeting: "This is the first I've heard of it and I can assure you that it will be answered."

While LEA officials claim moving pupils with special needs into mainstream schools will benefit the children themselves, not one of the 80 or so people at the public meeting agreed.

Speakers queued up to pour scorn on the proposals.

Jonathan Brown, who is hearing impaired and in his 40s, went to the unit in 1965. He told the meeting: "Hearing impaired pupils in mainstream education will not have a support worker all the time."

He added: "This unit is a valuable source of support".

Torbay LEA plans to save £550,000 from the special needs budget by placing hearing impaired and other special needs pupils in mainstream schools.

About 80 people attended the meeting on the future of the unit which has 10 places and is situated on the main school site.

The school has been praised by Ofsted inspectors.

No final decision has been made and consultation will continue over the summer.

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