Parents of children at struggling Mansfield special school demand full explanation but new trust CEO reassures ‘it will stabilise’

There has been a call for a full explanation as to why a Mansfield special school was closed for a week.

Some parents have held back children from returning to The Harlow Academy which partially reopened yesterday.

The special school appointed Luci Windle as executive headteacher, following its sudden closure last Thursday, January 20.

The Evolve Trust-run school, on Nottingham Road, Harlow Wood, had reportedly requested help from South Yorkshire-based Nexus Multi Academy Trust, bringing in Mrs Windle for the rest of the school year.

Harlow Wood Academy

The closure prompted complaints from parents. Education chiefs also raised concerns at the closure.

Rota

Pupils are now being asked to return on a rota basis – but the move has met with concerns from parents.

Kerrie Kirkpatrick’s nine-year-old son Aaron attends the school. Aaron, who uses a wheelchair, has congenital myotonic dystrophy, is non-verbal, autistic and has a feeding tube.

The entrance to The Harlow Academy, Nottingham Road, Harlow Wood.

Kerrie, aged 45, from Ollerton, said: “We are not happy about the situation, some are in at some times, others not. I don’t know what is happening with his lessons.

"I'm struggling at the moment. We [the parents] are blown away with what’s happened, we need information. They expected us to send our children back today with zero information.

“We’re trying to speak with the new headteacher, we are just in the dark.

“I have asked my MP to get involved. I need full disclosure.”

Warren Carratt, Nexus chief executive officer, moved to reassure parents.

He said: “We’ve been asked to come in and help by the current MAT, the Evolve Trust, who are struggling.

“We can’t comment on events relating to why the school was temporarily closed, but want to be as open as possible. We expect that any matters of public interest regarding the school will be shared in due course.

Stabilise

“Since coming in on Monday, we’ve been able to achieve a partial opening, and are aiming for things to stabilise quickly. Luci is an exceptional special school leader with extensive experience.

“One of her key priorities is to make contact with parents and reassure them their children will be safe to return to school.”

Education authorities had raised concerns about the closure of the former Fountaindale School, amid complaints from parents.

Colin Pettigrew, Nottinghamshire Council corporate director for children, young people and schools, said the council was ‘aware of and concerned about’ the temporary closure.

A Department for Education spokesman said it was “working closely” with the school, the trust and local authority to ‘strike the right balance’ between addressing issues at the school and helping it to open again.

Parents contacted your Chad to highlight their concerns over the academy, since Evolve Trust took over the former council-run school.

The school caters for boys and girls aged from three to 19 with special educational needs.

Kerrie said: “My son used to love going to school when it was Fountaindale, now he cries when he has to go.

"Evolve has changed everything. He loved the routines, music and snack times, his old teachers knew him, but now there is no consistency. It’s a shambles, they don’t tell us anything, lots of the teachers have left."

Stephen Scott is father to 10-year-old Leo, who attends the school – Leo is Aaron's cousin and has the same condition.

Strategy

"It has gone from one thing to another since the academy took over. Leo has been there seven years, 6.5 of those years with no issue.”

Andrew Dawkins, from Mansfield, is a full-time carer to sons Freddie and Louie. The 16-year-old twins have neuro-degenerative condition Batten disease, are epileptic, blind and incontinent.

They started the school aged six, but were taken out during Covid. Now Andrew is refusing to send them back.

He said: “I feel the school is not fit for purpose anymore, So many parents are angry and upset about it.

Lindsay Kirkpatrick is mum to five-year-old Cai.

Aaron’s half-brother, he also has congenital myotonic dystrophy, uses a wheelchair occasionally and has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Lindsay, 41, from Ollerton, said: “When one teaching assistant was leaving, I tried to talk to the school about implementing a strategy to help him cope, but had no response.

“Lots of parents are unhappy, we have tried meetings over issues before, but just get fobbed off.”

Gloria Miller is mum to nine-year-old Archie, who is hearing impaired and has Down syndrome.

Gloria, 49, from Mansfield: “They lost his walking frame during the transition to becoming the trust and they can’t find his wheelchair.

“I had issues with his sign language support, a battle with the school long before anyone else. I took him out and no-one even questioned where he was."

The trust has repeatedly been approached for comment.

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