Talks to save special school in ‘dire’ situation

A cross-party meeting has been held to try to secure the future of a threatened special school.

Stevenage and Herts county councillors James Fraser, Robin Parker and Sharon Taylor met Richard Roberts, the executive member for children’s services at County Hall on Thursday to find a way to continue financial support to TRACKS school for autistic children in Stevenage.

The independent charity school at The Glebe provides up to 10 young children with autistic spectrum disorders with one-to-one tuition to prepare them for entry into mainstream school – the only one of its kind in Herts.

But a decision by Herts County Council to cut funding because the school charges top-up fees to parents has left managers searching for a quarter of its operation costs.

Attempts by the school to persuade the authority to continue the �11,500 annual Nursery Grant funding which secures a further �9,000 in other grants, were rejected last month.

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A statement from Cllrs Fraser, Parker and Taylor said it was a “wide-ranging and helpful discussion”, but further work was needed.

“We have asked for some further information from the county council, including a copy of the legal advice they have acted upon. We will now be asking the trustees of TRACKS if we can arrange a meeting with them so that we can understand the key points of this issue.

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“We all recognise the outstanding work that TRACKS do to provide a truly excellent learning environment for the children they support. We will do all we can to try and bring this issue to a positive conclusion for the sake of those children, their parents, carers, staff, trustees and supporters.”

Mervyn Terrett, TRACKS chairman, said the school was grateful for the support, in what is a “dire situation”.

“Our cross-party Stevenage councillors are very keen to help us find a solution to this problem and we look forward to the opportunity to meet with them so we can put our case forward as strongly as we can.

“The children and families we support are very deserving of their support - they need our service and are devastated that it has been put at risk by Herts County Council’s unwillingness to use its discretion to continue to support us financially.

He added that in the meantime “we will do everything in our power” to raise funds needed to bridge the gap left by this debacle.

“We are committed to our children, families and staff and we want to give them our assurance that we are determined to continue operating as normal,” he said.

A second meeting between councillors and Cllr Roberts has been scheduled for early May.

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