Lib Dem Children’s Minister: How do schools serve children with special needs?

DiversitySarah Teather, Liberal Democrat Minister for Children and Families, is asking Lib Dem councillors about how the current system of providing support and education for children with special educational needs could be improved so I am posting a request for information on your experiences and opinions. The views will feed into a Government Green Paper to be published later this autumn. She has said

“Children with special educational needs and disabilities should have the same opportunities as other children. But the current system is so adversarial that too often this doesn’t happen. I want parents, teachers, charities, teaching unions and Local Authorities to come forward with the changes they think are needed to make the system better for children with SEN and their families.

 I want to hear from anyone who has experienced services for children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities – those who use them, and those who provide, or commission them.  People’s perspectives are varied and understandably deeply felt. I want everyone to have their say, and the opportunity to influence our future direction.

 Please tell us about your experiences and the problems and priorities from your perspective. Share your ideas for practical solutions.  Where things are working well, let us know why they work, or how they save money or time.  Thank you for helping us make the system work better for children and their families.”

Here is the link to the survey. Please pass this on to anyone you know who has a child with special needs, or any teachers or school governors. If you need a paper copy, please let me know.

New school on Gunhild Way: get your comments in now!

Time is running out to comment on the competition to run a new primary school on Gunhild Way — the County Council’s consultation closes this Friday. If you haven’t already commented, you can do so up till 20th August, by writing to David Clark at Cambridgeshire County Council ([email protected]).

Comments are invited from everyone, but the choice of provider of the new school is especially important for parents of children about to go to school, ie those currently at nursery school or younger, who will be applying to primary school soon. Astonishingly, nursery schools have not been included in the consultation.

There is a significant amount of local interest, but please spread the word, as I am still getting people telling me they are unaware.

Many people have heard through email grapevines, chat forums etc. There is a Facebook page about it, which draws together individuals’ comments as well as press reports. If you’re on Facebook please share the page with any local parents.

New Gunhild Way school contest: rival bidders set out their stalls to the community

NetherhallThis evening over 100 people crowded into the Cambridge Professional Development Centre in Trumpington to hear the two organizations bidding to run the new school set to open next year on Gunhild Way, where Netherhall Junior School is now.

The Queen Edith’s Federation team, presented first. The Head, Caroline Peet, spoke of their vision over the next ten years of two schools working in partnership. The Queen Edith’s chair of governors, Pam Jones, described the other sort of partnerships that Queen Edith’s has in the community – with educational institutions, faith groups and bodes promoting wellbeing and inclusion. The schools’ deputy head explained how Queen Edith’s serves the needs of a community that is diverse in its ethnicity, religions and economic backgrounds.

Mr Rossi spoke for the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia, explaining the theological imperative for education and their belief in the uniqueness of every child as a child of God. He told us there are 26 Catholic schools in the diocese, so there is plenty of experience. They aim to serve South Cambridge, as there are many Catholic families from the local churches who would like to send their children to a catholic school if there were more provision.

The meeting was very well attended, mainly by parents from Queen Edith’s, but there has been scanty local publicity in the other local schools.

Questions were wide-ranging, covering special needs provision, school economics and the logistics of split sites, but the major concerns led back to the main difference between the two bids: admissions policy.

While the Queen Edith’s Federation if successful would serve the immediate community — children residing in the current catchment areas of Queen Edith’s, Ridgefield and Morley primary schools — the Roman Catholic school would cover half of Cambridge, but give priority to children baptized as catholics, and only then to local non-catholic children.

Concerns were expressed about the extra traffic that would be generated by children coming from across town. It is unlikely children would walk or cycle to school from Newnham or Newmarket Road … especially at the speed of your average 4 or 5 year-old. More importantly, many people expressed alarm at the prospect of the new school having insufficient places for children living near the school.

These are concerns that I very much share. While I appreciate the value of a faith school (I attended two myself), it is even more vital that a school is embedded in the local community. Children going to a school in their neighbourhood has to be a good thing, not just for parental convenience but for the social life of the child and community cohesion.

I am hoping there will be more opportunities for people to hear the two sets of proposals again between now and the end of the consultation period, 20th August. It would be good to have something actually in Queen Edith’s, at a time that’s more convenient for parents than the early evening, a time when many parents will be on bedtime duty and I shall be making this request of the County Council.

The Conservative Cabinet of Cambridgeshire County Council will make the final decision on which organization runs the school at the end of September.

New primary school contest

The two organizations bidding to run the new primary school on Gunhild  Way in Queen Edith’s will be presenting their proposals to the public at the Cambridge Professional Development Centre in Trumpington (CB2 9NL) this Thursday 15th July. There will be public displays from 5 to 6 p.m. before the presentations. The meeting is open to everyone.

There are just  two bidders: The Queen Edith Community Federation Group and the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia.  You can read their full bids here, or see a summary and fill in a questionnaire here. If you can’t make the meeting, you can comment by contacting:

David Clark,  CYPS Infrastructure, Cambridgeshire County Council, Box CC1209, Castle Court, Castle Hill, Cambridge, CB3 0AP.

[email protected]

The new primary school will be on what is now Netherhall Lower School, off Gunhild Way and it is to cater for the ever rising numbers of children in the south of city. It is intended it will open in September 2011.

The Queen Edith’s bid includes proposals to create a catchment area of children from the existing Queen Edith Primary School catchment area, as well as those of Morley Memorial and Ridgeway. It has broad support, including from local councillors and from the Diocese of Ely.

The Roman Catholic bid covers a broader area, and in their own words, ‘will serve in the first instance, the Catholic community of South Cambridge’.

Meet the police at the Queen Edith’s School Fête

The Queen Edith County Primary School (Godwin Way) is holding its summer fete this Saturday, 22nd May. These events are great for their teas and hot dogs as well as other fête fun such as bouncy castles, assaults courses, music-making and games. There’s a car boot sale too, so a chance to pick up a bargain.

This year the community police team will be there from about 12.30, advising on crime prevention, so look out for them if you have any issues to discuss.The fête itself starts at 1 p.m. and I understand there are barbecue lunches on sale so it’s a good idea to get there early! More information from the School PSFA.

Education, Education … the crisis ahead in Cambridgeshire and nationally

SchoolchildrenThe South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats are holding an open meeting on education at St John’ Church, Hills Road, on 18th February.


 Cllr Peter Downes, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on education on Cambridgeshire County Council (former Head of Hinchingbrooke School and President of the Secondary Heads Association)

Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, Cambridgeshire County Councillor and Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South Cambridgeshire

Come and hear the Lib Dem point of view and have your say!

7 p.m., The Wilkinson Room, St John the Evangelist Church, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8RN (opposite Homerton College, buses 1, 4, 7 and lots more)

Drinks and snacks available. No ticketing, just come!

Education meeting poster