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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 January, 2004, 06:27 GMT
'Unique' school faces closure
Northern Counties School
Staff at the school offer individual learning packages to pupils
A unique special school on Tyneside says it may be forced to close after 166 years, because of "short-sighted" government policies.

The Northern Counties School in Newcastle, was founded in 1838 as a School for the Deaf.

It has achieved a national reputation for the quality of education it provides for children and young people with a range of disabilities and was visited by the Princess of Wales in the late 80s.

But school bosses say because of government rules allowing special needs to be included in mainstream schools, the Newcastle site may have to close next year.

Head teacher Frances Taylor said: "In many cases, it is just not appropriate to send special needs children to mainstream schools.

"The children we cater for have very complex needs requiring individual attention, which is why we provide a high staff-to-pupil ratio at all times.

When the pendulum swings back on this thinking, which it certainly will do, it will be too late
chairman of governors, Kevan Carrick

"Children are placed with Northern Counties because local authorities do not have the resources to cope with them.

"They need our unique blend of expertise and experience in working with 'exceptional' children to ensure that all their needs are met.

"With government pressure to create a fully inclusive system - a one-size-fits-all approach - we are concerned that the individual needs of special children are not being considered."

Now, with a declining number of pupils entering the school, its board of trustees says the school may have to close after July 2005.

A final decision about the future of the school, which is also registered as a charity, will be taken in March.

If no solution can be found, the administration would then draw up a closure plan giving parents and local education authorities 18 months to look for places at other schools for their children.

'Valued facility'

The chairman of the trustee governors, Kevan Carrick added: "We feel this is a tragic situation caused by a short-sighted government policy.

"When the pendulum swings back on this thinking, which it certainly will do, it will be too late.

"We will have lost forever a much-valued facility, unique in the region, and a long established local charity.

"It seems today that excellence is not enough."

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Skills said: "Although non-maintained special schools are approved by the secretary of state they are maintained by local education authorities (LEAs).

"All are primarily funded through pupil fees, with pupils almost exclusively being placed by LEAs.

"Decisions regarding the future non-maintained schools are also made by LEAs."



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