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Parents campaign to save ‘brilliant’ post-16 facility for special needs children

Philip House provides a “low-pressure” alternative to mainstream schooling but is now set to be shut down by Haringey Council, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Lucy Jeal and her daughter Aiden
Lucy Jeal and her daughter Aiden

Parents have banded together to save a “brilliant” education facility for post-16 students that provides a “low-pressure” alternative to mainstream schooling.

The facility, Philip House in Tottenham, offers one-to-one and small group tutoring sessions on a part-time basis mainly for children with educational health and care plans (EHCPs), offering flexibility to meet the requirements of its pupils. 

However, Haringey Council told parents at the end of last year that Philip House, part of the Haringey Learning Partnership (HLP) network, was set to close in July this year.

For Lucy Jeal and her daughter Aiden, 18, who has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this news was devastating as the facility was a “salvation” for Aiden who struggled attending mainstream schooling.

Lucy has played a key role in organising parents in a bid to save the facility, as well as writing to MPs and the council, and remains hopeful the school can remain open.

Aiden will finish her A-levels in July at the facility and has plans to go on to university. Her mother said she was “fighting” the decision because “she had nothing to lose”. 

In response to the campaign from parents,  Zena Brabazon, cabinet member for children, schools and families, has said: “The recommendation to close any facility of this kind is always a difficult one as we know how much it means to parents and their children.”

She said the council would take this “seriously” and mentioned officers – Jane Edwards, assistant director of schools and learning, and Caroline Brain, assistant director of commissioning – had a “constructive meeting” with the parents earlier this month.

Cllr Brabazon added they were “committed to considering” how to meet the needs of the students in both “short and longer term” and would be “reviewing” their provision.

Initially there was confusion from parents on the reason behind the decision, which was suspected to be financial. Haringey Council is facing pressure to balance its budget for next year, with a shortfall of £16.3million still to be made up.

However, the council has not said the proposed closure is budget-related. 

One of the main issues is where students in the middle of three-year programmes would go following the closure of Philip House, and whether it would be suitable. The council is now tasked with finding alternative provision for students who have EHCPs.

One such student is Keith Kahn-Harris’ daughter Ella, 17, who started a three-year A-level course in January 2023 but has been left not knowing where she’ll attend in September. 

Keith Kahn-Harris
Keith Kahn-Harris

Keith said: “Part of our worry, if she goes to a place that is inappropriate, is either her studies or health will suffer.

“It’s been brilliant for her, it’s low pressure but high aspiration. 

“Ella wants to be in university. She’s interested in her subjects, passionate about them, and she’s responded well.”

On the council’s reasoning for the closure, Keith said: “I’ve no reason to doubt it but it’s so hard to accept, particularly since their reorganisation plan didn’t seem to have any kind of provision for the children still in the middle of courses.”

He added: “Philip House is an anomaly, anything that makes the system more coherent to navigate would have my support, but not attending to the transition to it is ridiculous.”

Ann Daly, another parent whose son’s education will be disrupted, said the council’s decision to close for restructuring may be true but “it shouldn’t matter” as the provision was “needed”. 

She said: “If you’re going to close it, are there appropriate alternatives? From what we’ve seen to date they haven’t put forward appropriate alternatives.”

Like Keith and Ella, Ann wasn’t sure what was on the horizon.

She said: “We have no idea where he’ll go if he can’t attend Philip House in September, it has been brilliant for him, and obviously that’s quite concerning for us.”

Speaking on the benefits of Philip House, Aiden said: “The environment is great, you have your own private space, it’s not full-time, you can do as much as you feel you can. There are expectations of you because the tutors want to push us and want us to do well but it’s not presented in the way [mainstream] school is, it’s kinder.”

Before Philip House came along, Aiden was worried she would be left with no options as she wanted to continue in education but found it incompatible. 

Lucy said: “It’s basically a lifeline, I will fight with all I’ve got to keep it open.”

Following the most recent discussion with the council, Lucy said: “They [the council] could have come back to us and said ‘nope, there’s no way’, but they haven’t yet so that’s hopeful.”

Cllr Brabazon said: “Unfortunately, we do not feel that this bespoke offer can be sustained in its current form at HLP.

“We must ensure we are helping all our young people across Haringey to engage in education, employment or training post-16 and using public money to best effect.

“The recommendation also means HLP can revert to being a 11-16 pupil referral unit for alternative provision, capitalising on their core work and strengths.”