‘Save special needs unit’ urge mums facing Cambridge Heath Sixthform College cuts

Protest at Cambridge Heath Sixthform College

Protest at Cambridge Heath Sixthform College - Credit: Archant

Mums are making a desperate plea tonight to stop their children’s special needs unit in London’s deprived East End being closed down.

Protest at Cambridge Heath Sixthform College

Protest at Cambridge Heath Sixthform College - Credit: Archant

Parents with teenagers at Cambridge Heath Sixthform College are meeting Tower Hamlets education and social care director at 6pm in an 11th-hour bid to stop plans to shut the unit—leaving 21 vulnerable teenagers having to find alternative places for their Level 1 life skills foundation course.

Education director Robert McCulloch-Graham is understood to be planning to visit the Wessex Centre tomorrow, following his Town Hall meeting this evening.

The parents staged a short protest outside the college in Hadleigh Street, Bethnal Green, yesterday.

“This is really upsetting our kids who are happy and thriving in the unit,” protester Emma Price told the East London Advertiser.

“It’s morally wrong. It’s just the special needs unit that they want to close—just 21 kids who really need it.”

Her son Bobby, 18, who has autism, is one of those without a place come September.

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“My son won’t be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist,” she added. “But he’s learning life skills in that environment and needs to be at the college another year.”

The parents have handed a petition to the Town Hall pleading for the unit to be spared from cuts.

A Town hall spokesperson said: “We are in discussion with the schools and the parents to help alternative arrangements.”

Schools are responsible for setting their own curriculum, but the authority’s role was to “ensure the curriculum is “broad and balanced and best meets the needs of all of their pupils,” it promised.

The decision over special needs is not one local authority may be able to prevent, as the college is self-managed. Cambridge Heath is a joint sixthform college for Morpeth, Swanlea and Oaklands secondary schools.

Plans for the special unit’s closure stem from consultation proposals by the college governors to make four staff redundant in September.

A joint statement by head teachers Brenda Landers from Swanlea Secondary, Jemima Reilly from Morpeth and Patrice Canavan from Oaklands sent tonight to the Advertiser says: “The sixth form has grown substantially since 2009 (when the college opened) to the point where the centre can no longer accommodate the needs of all the students. Teaching has therefore largely moved back into the three founding schools.

“The Learning Tier is now the only sixthform provision solely based at the Wessex Centre.

“These learners need the most support and the schools no longer feel their needs are best met through the current provision.”

Most special needs learners will move into Morpeth in September to complete their courses. But some are facing being moved into social care.

The college will no longer run the ‘life skills’ course from September, governors have decided. The students are to be transferred to “alternative provision or where appropriate adult social care.”