Special needs school fights for council funds

Delamere pupils on a learning curve at the school’s new Salford home. Interest in places is increasing and there is the capacity to accept more students on a day or residential basis

Delamere pupils on a learning curve at the school’s new Salford home. Interest in places is increasing and there is the capacity to accept more students on a day or residential basis

In its new more central northern location, Britain's only Jewish residential special needs school is attracting increased interest from parents. But they face a struggle obtaining local council funding for residential places.

Following the closure of Delamere Forest's long-time Cheshire premises because of financial difficulties, its 17 pupils have been settling in at a £190,000 facility on the Salford site of the Inscape House specialist school for autistic children. The partnership with Inscape will save an estimated £200,000 in annual running costs through shared premises and administrative staff, with Inscape head Keith Cox also overseeing Delamere operations.

A purpose-built Delamere wing operates as a separate school and boasts high-spec classrooms, an educational kosher kitchen and arts and Jewish learning rooms. Residential students live in Crumpsall in north Manchester.

Four of the pupils are from north Manchester, others from Sheffield, Surrey, Essex, Hackney, Barnet and Borehamwood. There is the capacity to increase the student roll to 25 and governors are working on a strategy to cater for more.

Yet in a tough financial climate, councils looking to reduce budgets prefer the less expensive option of funding non-residential places within their own boroughs.

Delamere vice-chair Barbara Goodman pledged to help parents argue the need for Jewish residential schooling with local authorities.

"We now have a special set-up that adds to the strength of our case. We have a residential home in the heart of the Jewish community. Children are taking advantage of Jewish shops, synagogues and youth clubs. And our school is only eight miles away. As a Jewish school-age child with special needs, you can't get that anywhere else in the country."

Admissions are dealt with by social worker Shelley Sluckis, who reported mounting interest from parents.

"When we mooted the move, we had parents from north Manchester calling us. Now a family from Leeds want their child to come. For parents close by it's now more practical for children to live at home and be a day pupil.

"But our residential pupils live in a Jewish area we've had an inquiry from a Charedi family from Gateshead. We already have two Charedi students and another is ready to come in."

The parents of that child are waiting on a special education tribunal after appealing against their local authority's rejection of funding. Tribunals were an increasing trend, Mr Cox said.

"We have expertise in fighting tribunals and a psychologist to represent families."

Pupils gained "life skills and entry-level GCSEs and we also offer a number of other qualifications, including food technology, computer studies and travel and tourism." Some move on to Langdon College, the Jewish educational facility for the post-school age group.

Teddy Morris, 15, from Surrey is among the Delamere residents. Enjoying making cream macaroon biscuits, he talked about achieving GCSEs.

"I like the new school," he said. "I like cooking, but my friend said the biscuits look like burgers. I want to work in a holiday shop and sort people's holidays out."

    Last updated: 9:56am, January 14 2011