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Does Louth Need An MLD School?

July 17th 2014

For a long time, I've suspected that there isn't enough provision for pupils with special educational needs in the Louth area. In Louth there's one school, St Bernard's on Wood Lane, which caters to pupils with severe learning difficulties (SLD). However, the town doesn't have a dedicated school for children with moderate learning difficulties (MLD).

This matters. Twenty years ago I taught English as an assistant in a French school, and if there's one thing I learned about teaching during my time there, it's that pupil ability is vitally important. It's far, far easier to teach one lesson to a group of children who are all at roughly the same level than it is to try to teach different things to a class of children who all have widely differing abilities. You get better results, and everyone is happier.

There's no MLD school in Louth, so choices are limited for young people with a statement of moderate special educational needs:
  • Travel to a school outside of the town
  • Accept placement in an unsuitable school
  • Try home schooling
  • Move house
I believe the nearest MLD school outside Louth is St Lawrence's in Horncastle. However, its places are limited, so a few young people end up going to school much further afield. This means that some children have to travel a long way on a daily basis. The disadvantages of that should be obvious.

It's not ideal. One of the things that makes this situation harder is that a lot of pupils with autism have difficulty in large classrooms, and also with coping with change. The problem with large class sizes is a sensory issue. In short, pupils with autism find themselves bombarded with too much information when there are lots of other people moving around in the same room, and they find it harder to filter out the noise and distractions so they can focus on their schoolwork. So pupils with very specific needs can't be shunted into any old school, and these schools in turn can't have large classrooms.

Freedom of Information

What I wanted to discover was how many pupils in Louth are in this situation, with an eye to figuring out whether the town requires an MLD school of its own. Louth's population is due to increase, thanks to recent planning decisions, and new plans keep increasing the number of potential new properties. But is there sufficient scope for a new school?

I made a Freedom Of Information request to Lincolnshire County Council for some relevant figures. They sent me some answers to my questions, but in some ways they only made me realise that I didn't ask enough questions. This is what they told me:
  • There are 44 pupils in the Louth area who have moderate special needs.
  • There are 134 places available at moderate learning difficulty schools in the East Lindsey area
  • There are currently 11 pupils who are home schooled and have special educational needs in the East Lindsey area. Projections of pupil numbers for the next 5 years are not available.
It's important to note that the geographical range of these figures doesn't match up. There are 44 pupils in Louth with moderate special needs, where there are no school places. Unfortunately LCC didn't provide me with figures for the number of pupils in the whole of East Lindsey, which would have been more useful in working out whether those 134 places were adequate.

Where are those 134 places? There are four special schools in the district: St Lawrence School in Horncastle, St Bernard's School in Louth, The Eresby School in Spilsby, and The Lady Jane Franklin School in Spilsby. Of those schools, St Bernard's is exclusively for pupils with severe learning difficulties, whereas St Lawrence's is an MLD school. The Lady Jane Franklin is designated as a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, so there's probably some overlap there with the needs of pupils with moderate learning difficulties. Eresby is listed as an SLD school.

I don't know what these figures tell us about the demand for a school in Louth. There are certainly children who would benefit from a closer school.

What we do know is that Louth needs a new primary school to cater for the people who will live in the new houses that have been (or will be) granted planning permission. I believe there's a strong case for either including MLD provision in that school, or for providing an entirely new MLD school in the town.



 


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