Parents win battle against staffing cuts at London school’s deaf unit but say future isn’t safe

Parents protest outside Laycock Primary School in Islington  (Matt Crossick)
Parents protest outside Laycock Primary School in Islington (Matt Crossick)

A London deaf school renowned across the UK is facing an uncertain future, parents fear, despite winning their battle against staffing cuts amid financial strains.

Laycock Primary School in Islington has an unusually large deaf provision serving 13 London boroughs, attracting clinical and council referrals and praise from the British Deaf Association and National Deaf Children’s Society.

A total of 64 children attend, of which 38 have additional needs such as ADHD and autism. Award-winning staff have catered to students from nursery to year 6 for 40 years.

Proposals of specialist staff redundancies were protested by parents in December and as a result, withdrawn by the school’s governors panel this week.

But parents fear it’s a sticking plaster response and staffing cuts could be revisited in future as the school grapples with a financial deficit.

A statement on behalf of parents said: “We have no confidence in the current headteacher, and chair of the governors and we remain deeply concerned about the future of Laycock under the current leadership.

“It is clear that the plan was to push through the changes under the radar before Christmas. Due to parents’ intervention, the headteacher and governors were forced into a consultation, which led to the restructure being stopped.”

Parents claimed the school failed to consult with deaf education experts or parents before proposing the staff cuts.

A letter, seen by the Standard, sent to parents on December 2 by headteacher Amy Lazarczyk said: “The process of Organisational Change is an internal process and involves a consultation period for those staff who will be affected by the changes.

“I will write and let you know exactly what the new staffing model looks like at the end of the consultation period.”

The unit is staffed by specialised teachers of the deaf (ToDs) and higher level teaching assistants (HLTAs) and has its own head teacher.

But the proposed changes involved replacing three specialist roles - head of deaf provision, assistant head of deaf provision and audiologist - with one assistant headteacher, parents said.

Earlier proposals also included integrating students in year 4, 5 and 6 into “mainstream” classes on afternoons, but this was removed from the staff consultation after parents raised concerns.

Giulia Bove has a son, Max, who is deaf, has ASD and ADHD, and a daughter, Olivia, who is deaf, at Laycock Primary.

She told the Standard staff cuts could mean her children fall behind in their learning.

“For Max for example, because he’s obviously profoundly deaf he uses cochlear implants.

“He also has ADHD and autism and if he didn’t have the right support in class he would just come across as a child that behaves badly, and that’s not the case, and that’s how you fall behind.

“If you make that cut there wouldn’t be a person there to really understand his ADHD or his autism and understand the root of why he may behave in a specific way at the moment.”

Ms Bove said waiting two months for an outcome on the consultation period, which was extended twice, has been “incredibly stressful” and “just terrifying”.

Parents were told by the school’s governors panel in a letter on Monday: “After careful consideration, our decision is not to implement the proposal and thus the impacted staff are no longer at risk of redundancy.

“The school continues to be in a serious financial position with a substantial deficit budget and will continue to work with the Local Authority and the school community to address this.

“We believe that further evaluation and analysis are necessary before making decisions regarding the mainstream and the deaf provision.”

The panel acknowledged that a two-month consulting period on the restructure was a “difficult and uncertain time for all involved”.

The decision to not go ahead with staffing cuts has been praised by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Deputy Director of Local Engagement Martin Thacker said: “It’s a recognition of the fact that deaf children have exactly the same right to a first-class education as their hearing classmates.

“Parents have an absolute right to a say in decisions affecting their children’s future. We look forward to liaising closely with Islington Council and the school to ensure that the best interests of the school’s deaf pupils remain safeguarded in future.”

Parents have acknowledged the need for budget cuts but ask that staff changes are made in consultation with deaf experts and with parents. This will be reiterated in a speech made to Islington Council on Thursday evening.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: “Like many schools across the country, Laycock Primary is facing increased financial pressures and a projected budget deficit this year.

“We respect the decision of its governing body and will continue to work closely with them and the headteacher on solutions that both protect the quality of teaching and ensure the school achieves a balanced budget.”

Islington Council said it and the school would not comment further at this stage.