23rd March 2023
Date/time of meeting: Wednesday 8th March 2023, 11am
|SEND Strategic Director
Service Lead – School Organisation
Senior School Organisation Officer
Headteacher, SP, welcomed parents to the meeting and introduced the Governors and school staff. She invited JR to introduce her team who were attending via Teams.
SP made clear that this is a discussion between the school, parents and the Local Authority. No decisions have been made and we are all invested in reaching the right decision.
SP gave background and context to the consultation. Post 16 pupils have a right to transition into their own area away from younger pupils. They have a right to feel different. SP explained that at our previous site in Honiton, Post 16 pupils had their own accommodation and could easily access Honiton town centre, shops and local transport. When we moved to Bicton, Governors were concerned that the new building was remote and would keep pupils separate from the community. We now have beautiful surroundings but we are not part of a community in the way we were in Honiton. Travel training is difficult and we are not able to equip our pupils for a lifetime of purposeful leisure.
The current school was built in 2015 for 100 pupils. We had specialist classrooms, a training kitchen and a fully functioning independence training flat, with bedroom and bathroom. We had facilities and we got a ‘good’ result in the Ofsted report in 2017. Since then, our numbers have increased and we are now at 120 pupils. The flat has been given over to make space for other needs. The training kitchen has been cut in half so that we can provide school lunches on site. At other Special Schools like Lampard in North Devon Post 16 pupils transition out to another building. Westfield in Dorset have a bungalow at the end of the drive as a Post 16 training facility. We do not have anywhere for our Post 16 pupils to go.
SP stated that, despite our best efforts, our current provision is not good enough, but was clear that she still wants to have Mill Water Post 16 provision. To this end, she has looked at a range of buildings that could serve as a Post 16 satellite ie Budleigh Fire Station, Saplings Nursery, and the house opposite our current building. Governors and SP have looked at many different sites in Bicton, Budleigh, Honiton and in Exmouth over the years.
SP stated that she is working with the Local Authority to improve provision at Petroc College in Tiverton.
A parent asked about what the Post 16 offer should be (number of days). SP - The national offer for Post 16 is for three days of education with wrap around social care. Social Care/Health/Education must work together.
Andrew Maker was invited to comment on Mill Water’s current offer. He stated that we have six pupils in Post 16. The classroom is shared with pre 16 pupils. We do go out in the community but our access is limited. We try to meet needs and outcomes on EHCPs.
AM said that numbers will fall further next year, with only three pupils in Post 16.
SP described how our facilities are being squeezed due to an increase in our numbers. Our specialist classrooms - art, drama, the fitness suite etc, have all gone by the board. This consultation might go on to increase our baseline numbers from 100 to 112, but we already have 120 pupils.
AG is a governor and parent. “As a parent of a young person who was asked to leave earlier than expected, I know this is scary. The cohort in H’s second year was going to change to be mostly non-verbal, wheelchair users. H is neither of these things. It was difficult because change is difficult for many pupils. Transport becomes a problem in Post 16. It worked out for me because H ended up going to a College closer to home.”
AG asked whether the space here is right. H left for a more appropriate space in Tiverton where they can walk to Morrison’s. Mill Water is a fantastic space but it benefits our younger pupils much more than the older ones.
JR introduced herself and gave the background to why the Local Authority had come to the point of consultation with Mill Water.
JR came to Devon about 18 months ago following an Ofsted report on Devon County’s Children’s Services. SP raised the issue of Mill Water’s Post 16 provision back then, stating that she didn’t feel it was good enough. JR commented that this is a is a brave and unusual thing for a Headteacher to say.
JR and her team are looking at cross county provision. She reassured parents that DCC have a duty to fulfil EHCPs, wherever a pupil might be placed. They are looking to see how they can match education and social care. Mill Water provides a safe space, but can’t provide independence skills around shopping, etc. JR acknowledged that parents have fought to get their children into Mill Water and reassured them that their EHCPs would only be changed if there was a change in need.
Parent – If the school has known about this, how has the council not known? What else is out there? There is no alternative provision; you cannot take away our children’s education.
Parents questioned what help SP had had from the LA. “You have had 10 years to make a change. My son would have to go into residential; be locked up. Devon is the worst for funding. It feels like if you don’t tick the Autism box there is no funding. I don’t understand why SP has not been heard.”
Parent – You are talking like an EHCP is a magic passport. Intentions don’t build services.
We are realistic. School fills in a lot of the gaps. The Green Paper (SEND and Alternative Provision) is full of intentions, but our children can’t wait. The negatives mentioned in the consultation document weren’t negatives in 2017. There is so much pressure on the school.
Parent – questioned how their severely autistic son would be able to find his way around a college site. (Petroc)
Parent – Our son is eighteen, and has been here since he was four. The EHCP Hub is not fit for purpose. The school has given a lot of help over where he should go next. If he left at 16 where would he go? He is still educable. Where does he go? We are left with one place.
Parent – The cohort has a wide spread of needs and ability. We have done lots of research. Our son does not need to go out into the community, we can do that bit with him. He needs education now to reduce life costs in the future because of his communication. The reality in the short term is that there is no short term answer.
Parent – This was predicted when the school was built.
JR – I apologise on behalf of the County that things were not right in the past. The EHCP Hub is not great.
Parent – At the ‘Moving On’ event, there were no suitable places. DCC won’t fund places at the one private college that might be suitable.
Parent – Our children need education for longer, not less. Other young people get education to eighteen without question.
Parent – Our son doesn’t need to go out in the community.
Parent – Is the move to another site still on the cards?
SP explained that there is nothing in the pipeline but the vision doesn’t go away. Bicton have expanded so they have said there are no spaces on the site that we can have.
Parent – If Post 16 goes, it won’t ever come back.
Parent – We live ½ an hour’s drive away in Seaton. This is the only specialist setting in East Devon. It is too far. My girl can’t ask for the toilet so she comes home screaming. This is traumatic in the taxi, and leads to aggression and challenging behaviour. It is not easy to travel. Repeated trauma. This is the only setting. You can’t close this if you don’t have anything to replace it. She gets social interactions in the community with enablers: we need education.
Parent – It took us three years to get an EHCP. Transport is border line because of where we live. We chose this school. It means you are rejected from everywhere else before you come here. There is no choice ‘within 20 miles’ as the Council state. You want us to do another three years of fighting?
Parent – The only way our children can be independent is where it is safe. Bicton is safe.
Parent – Petroc is near a busy road, open site, near the river. Massive changes need to be made. Interested to see what they can put in place but it is not safe provision.
Parent – We spoke to Petroc. We said our son used a communicator with Proloquo2go. We were told they use another program so he cannot use it there. It is like telling him he has to start speaking French. There is no therapeutic approach. Oakwood told us that they have six to eight young people sitting at home because DCC couldn’t fund their places.
Parent – Our children will end up being baby-sat, not educated.
Parent – Sensory overload promotes aggression.
Parent – We have more complex pupils.
Parent – Where are the minutes to say what you have done?
PC – I take that criticism. What we were trying to prevent was constantly raising then dashing expectations. We wanted to wait to tell you when we had found the right place.
Parent –Where is the Mill Water site in town? This is what we want.
Parent – What we are hearing is that there is no choice.
Parent – This school was built with a flat. You are ripping it away.
PC – The projection is that Post 16 numbers will be low.
SP – There is no golden answer. Petroc want to make their offer better. I want families to have a choice.
Parent – You feel you can’t provide but we think it’s great. Are you exploring other options; will there be funding?
MC – for legal or financial reasons, none of the other sites we have looked at have been suitable. People want a Mill Water satellite. This is what we have been looking for for the last eight years. I don’t want to throw this idea away.
Parent – Is this a short consultation period? SP – It is the legal framework.
Parent – I would be really surprised if this consultation changes anything.
Parent – Ellen Tinkham (College) give priority to their own pupils.
SP – ETC was a joint vision with Jackie Warne (Headteacher at the time the College was set up) but they have pressure on numbers.
Parent – If there is no hoist, pupils sit in the corner and deteriorate.
SP – The College there are moving to the Hollow Lane site. I want better.
Parent – Better is not out there; this is making that very clear.
Parent – People chose Mill Water because it went straight through. It is a family. Parents are panicking because there is nothing else. As everybody has said, there is nothing. You need to build a College. LEA (Local Education Authority) is not fit for purpose.
Parent – My daughter (who left MW last year), with a life limiting condition and limited mobility, is showing regression this year. I opted for Social Care because I just want her to enjoy what life she has left. We left at the end of August and have had nothing for months, because of funding and recruitment issues. I had to go out and find providers. CEDA were full. She has been using the Children’s Service there since 2014, they knew I wanted her to come. I found Garland Support in Exeter. They are using her as an experiment to see if they can help someone with such complex needs. They are fantastic with her but say it takes two to one support but OT just said one. How are they meant to manage changing without changing space facilities? She has a right to go out in her community. The fight goes on.
Parent – I have been fighting for a bigger direct care budget. We need two to one care. My son appears to be happy because he has Angelman’s. We can’t physically manage. If you have Autism you get given money.
Parent – If you have a rare disease - nothing. Autism…
Parent – the term Autism is used too easily.
Parent – The LA are discriminative with their assessments.
Parent – We don’t have time for the older children. Will there be a 6th Form not next year? What is the LA thinking around alternative placements?
JR – We want things to be different from the past. Yes, there is a huge overspend in High Needs. We need to invest to save.
Parent – Where is the space? Can we work with Bicton?
SP – We explored that the moment we arrived. Bicton sent an email last week: “stop asking, there is no more space.”
Parent – When we leave here today what is going to happen?
SP – I have met individually with parents in Y10 and Y11. As a professional and speaking personally I would never expect you to put your child in the wrong setting. We have to put dates on the consultation but they will move if there is nothing available.
Parent – Council are selling off buildings, could they be repurposed?
Parent – Should Headteachers be running around being Estate Agents?
Parent – What is going on in the Council?
Parent – The old school in Honiton is still empty.
JR – SN is looking on our behalf. We don’t stop when there is nothing there. We won’t leave you with nothing. We are currently paying for 1,160 pupils in private provision.
Parent – EHCPs are useless.
JR – We know it is not good enough
Parent – The fear is that if Petroc has x number of spaces then Oakwood won’t be considered or funded.
Parent – Governing body has worked hard over many years. We want our children to stay because continuity is key. If a satellite is run and staffed by Mill Water, even if not on this site, it will give familiarity.
Parent – Private schools are all through and they are not considered being ‘institutionalised’.
LM – EHCP is a legal document. Children’s needs are very individual. If there isn’t any provision, where do they go?
JR – I don’t have any answers.
AG – As a parent what I am picking up is timescales. This is moving too quickly. If all parents say we have faith in what Mill Water provides, we should support a Mill Water Post 16 off site. We support Sarah.
Parent – Unanimous support for Sarah. We recognise we want Mill Water provision to continue.
Parent – It is not Sarah. It is not the Governing Body. It is down to funding and the County. Why did County make it Sarah’s problem?
Parent – the push is not just budgetary. The LA also need more capacity for younger children.
SP – Thank you for coming and sharing so openly.
12.30 SP left the room (Ofsted inspection in progress).
PC – We can carry on.
Parent – there is a shortage of social care provision.
PC – We don’t want you to go away scared.
Parent – The email announcing the Post 16 closure arrived at 4pm on Friday night. We weren’t able to get hold of anyone.
Parent – We were not aware this was a possibility.
PC – It was a mistimed communication. I apologise. What we want to do is start a discussion.
Parent – I feel isolated as a parent. I used to drop my son off and saw people, spoke to people. Now he goes on the bus I have lost contact with staff.
PC – We try to open up the school as much as possible with coffee mornings and drop ins.
Parent – It feels like we’re fighting a battle every year. This is another battle.
Parent – The only constant thing is school. Our anchor was ripped out.
SN – I will ask SM to explain the process (for the consultation) and where it goes. This isn’t a tick box exercise. This (process) does change things.
SM – I have to ensure that legislation and guidance is followed appropriately. This is a real listening exercise, not a fait accompli. School closures have been reversed. It is vital you respond to the Governors; then there is a formal representation procedure for four weeks, a notice in the newspapers. We will ask for responses to be shared. Cabinet will ask difficult questions. There will be a full impact assessment on travel and accessibility.
Minutes from this meeting will be presented to Cabinet. We are looking to make a decision in June 2023.
SN – For school to carry on while Ofsted are in the building shows an extraordinary commitment.
Do we go formal?
Do we go to Cabinet?
We ask at every stage.
SM – If another option comes forward we will re-consult.
Parent – If our children are out of school then there is no access to the hub/system. Mainstream kids get education until 18.
SN – There is no statutory education after 16. No legal requirement. Children with Statutory Plans (EHCP) have a different set of rights.
Parent – Isn’t it either education or training after 18? Ours can’t access training or apprenticeships so it should be education.
LM – Is there a right to education up to 25?
JR – If they are making progress and if it is considered necessary at Review.
Parent – How many fall through the gap?
Parent – There is a massive gap in East Devon.
JR – We need to hear about this.
Parent – Why don’t people sue the Council?
JR – It is a privilege to hear from you.
Parent – Don’t tell families to go to the Ombudsman. Do you know that cases are currently taking three years to be heard? We don’t have three years before Post 16.
JR – I am looking to make things better. The EHCP has an entitlement wherever the setting.
Parent – I want to tell the Council that you are not meeting need outside of school.
JR – I will talk to you after the meeting.
Parent – Mill Water provide five days but you are saying that the offer is three days? The closing date for this consultation is close. If another option is found would it be another consultation?
SM – Yes.
Parent – You cannot close MW Post 16 without having suitable alternative provision in place.
PC – That comes out loud and clear from today’s meeting.
Parent – Do we email in individually?
PC – Yes, please.
JR – Hub is not useful for parents.
Parent – We bypassed the hub because we were able to, and went straight to our caseworker.
JR – I want to come back. Can we set up a coffee morning sometime in March?
PC – In person will be good, some parents take an hour to get here and might not have thought it worth coming for an hour’s meeting.
Parent – Could we do something in the evening because there is anxiety about not being able to be here during the day.
Parent – The school is amazing. Thank you for the work that Governors have done.
Meeting ended at 12.55