Island's special school is threatened with closure

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The Independent Online

For parents on Anglesey, it is a very special school indeed. But Ysgol Y Bont, the only school for children with special needs on the island, faces closure. And parents are worried that pressure will then be applied to them to put their children into mainstream education if that happens.

For parents on Anglesey, it is a very special school indeed. But Ysgol Y Bont, the only school for children with special needs on the island, faces closure. And parents are worried that pressure will then be applied to them to put their children into mainstream education if that happens.

Their concerns reflect a national debate over inclusion that will climax in a Commons debate tomorrow, when the Conservatives will call for a halt to special school closures.

Government figures show that more than 200 special schools have closed since 1990, 93 of them in the past six years.

Nobody doubts that Ysgol Y Bont, which teaches 76 pupils aged three to 19, should be moved to a new site on the Welsh island. It is in the middle of an industrial estate in buildings which have reached the end of their lifespan, and the site is being sold.

What has alarmed parents is the fact that the council is considering opening two units attached to mainstream schools, rather than building a new school. One will be attached to a primary school and the other to a secondary, and parents say they have been told that as many children as possible will be admitted to mainstream education.

Kerry Page, who has two children - George, eight, and Sid, six - at the school, said the two units would not have Ysgol Y Bont's facilities. "We are all in agreement that it would be a tragedy if it went and was not replaced," she said. "George hated going to school before he came here, but he loves it now. Within a month of our moving here last year, we were told it was going to close."

Ysgol Y Bont has a hydrotherapy pool and a "white room", where children in a state of anxiety go to calm down. David Hughes, the headteacher, said this is likely to be offered at only one of the two units, with the prospect of an anxious child being sent in a bus to a building two miles away. Mrs Page said: "We're all in agreement that the school does need to be rebuilt. It's in a pretty bad state. Originally we were going to be offered a new school but the talk is of integrating the kids as much as possible.

"But often, when a child with special needs is integrated into a mainstream school, they tend to get isolated because there just aren't the resources to help them. If that's integration, I'm a monkey's uncle."

David Cameron, the Conservative education spokesman, who has a three-year-old son with cerebral palsy, has claimed it is easier to escape from Colditz than find a special school place for a child. He says 80 special schools have closed since 1997 and 6,000 places have been cut.

Geraint Ellis, Anglesey's head of education services, said the plans for what would happen if Ysgol Y Bont closes were back in the melting pot. "We have discussed two options with the governing body. There was no welcome for either," he said. Under the first, Ysgol Y Bontwould be housed in a unit attached to a primary school. The number of pupils would be cut to 60 as those with moderate learning difficulties would be integrated into mainstream education. Under the second, there would be two units, and the council has pledged to provide a hydrotherapy unit.

Mr Ellis insisted that only those pupils who would benefit from mainstream education would be transferred. He added that the climate of opinion over special needs education was changing nationally, saying special needs children were "coming through to education when 20 years ago they would not have done".

n The UK's first bilingual state primary school is expected to get the go-ahead today. Pupils will be taught in English and French from the age of four at the school in Wandsworth, south London, in a scheme between the council and the French embassy.

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