Special school facing the axe

Talks are being held into the future of a threatened special school.

Wigan Council's ruling Labour cabinet confirmed last week that it is to start formally consulting over the possible closure of Montrose Special School in August 2010.

Children and Young People's Services chiefs say classrooms at the Pemberton-based school will have a roll of only 21 pupils next year after parents elected to send their children elsewhere.

The school has been in special measures since February 2008 after a damning report from Ofsted inspectors.

But the latest inspection confirmed that the school, for four to 14-year-olds, was "continuing to improve".

Wigan Independent Conservative group leader Coun Gareth Fairhurst is now attempting to trigger a re-think over the decision.

He wants the town hall's Overview and Scrutiny committee to investigate the reasons behind the falling rolls and the decision to close. The body then has the power to block the move and send it back to Cabinet for further consideration.

But he will need written confirmation from at least five other members of the committee – where all the political parties have representation – to bring it back to them.

Coun Fairhurst was a prominent campaigner in the high profile but unsuccessful fight to save Mere Oaks Special School in Standish.

The row eventually even ended up on the desk of then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He now claims that the decision to close Montrose is a "betrayal" of pledges that were made to assuage parents affected when Mere Oaks' closure was confirmed.

Coun Fairhurst said: "These children can simply not be messed about time and time again.

"Labour said when Mere Oaks closed that the pupils will not be moving again and here we are with another upset for these children.

"I have asked for cross-party support on this and I wait to see who will support this call-in.

"This is not a party political issue, it is about what is right and wrong."

The school, in Montrose Avenue, which was only reclassified as a special school three years ago, takes pupils from four years old up to Key Stage Three with moderate or severe learning difficulties.

Cabinet member for children Coun Susan Loudon said that the council had only decided to consult over possible closure – not to close the school – and all parents would get the opportunity to have their voice heard "in a sensitive way".

She said: "There are going to be just 21 pupils at the school next year and that has prompted a really difficult, non-political decision by the council."

School rolls have now reduced at Montrose to such an extent that the school, established for 70 pupils, will have less than a third of that number next year.

A tentative plan to form a "federation" with Hope special school now looks less likely to happen, because of the falling numbers at Montrose.