Supporters of specialist provision for deaf and hearing-impaired children have reacted with dismay to the sudden closure of one of the UK’s oldest schools for deaf children
However, in November 2015 the Care Quality Commission issued a statement saying that due to significant concerns it had taken ‘urgent enforcement action to limit the services provided at Westgate College for Deaf People and the Road Project.’
According to a blog by local MP Craig Mackinlay
‘various safeguarding issues were judged to be below satisfactory levels which led to local authorities from across the country, including KCC [Kent County Council], putting a freeze on new students being referred to the school.’
On 9 December Catriona Filmer, Deputy Director of Support and Advice Services at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said NDCS was extremely concerned about the impact of the possible closure, especially for pupils with additional disabilities:
‘Specialist schools play a crucial role in providing a range of education support for deaf children. Therefore, we urge the Government to take whatever action is necessary to help stabilise the school’s finances.’
Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chair of the British Deaf Association, also wrote to Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan describing the school’s potential closure as a ‘catastrophe’. In his letter he says,
‘It would be a national tragedy – a disgrace – if the country were to lose this unique resource…’
Despite their pleas and those of other supporters the school was closed two days later. Responding to news of the closure Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the NDCS, said:
‘We are bitterly disappointed by the decision to close the Royal School for Deaf Children Margate with immediate effect. The school has proven to be a lifeline for deaf children with additional complex needs and from today some of the most vulnerable children in England will not be getting their basic human rights to education.
Deaf children who have previously struggled to get their educational needs met come from all over the country to attend the school and go on to thrive. The sudden closure of the school will be an immense loss to them as well as future generations of deaf children with additional needs who may require highly specialised education support provided at Margate.
We are supporting families to write to their MP and working with the MP for Kent, Roger Gale, on this important issue. We are also in dialogue with Kent County Council to find suitable placements for the children in their area and we urge other local authorities to take immediate steps to put interim education provision in place with a view to find an appropriate school in the very near future.’
However, any hopes of saving the school appeared to be dashed when parents received a letter confirming the closure a few days before Christmas. NDCS issued a statement on 23 December saying it was contacting the Government ‘to ask if it has rejected calls from parents to save the school.’
At the time of writing a petition asking the Department for Education to ensure funding and support has attracted almost 88,000 signatures.