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Gillingham mum campaigns to save school for deaf children

A Gillingham mum has called for the government to step in and save a threatened school for deaf children and young people with learning difficulties.

The John Townsend Trust, which operates the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate, was placed in administration this week while a review of its financial position is carried out.

Mum of five Manda Maskell, of Harold Avenue, Gillingham – whose son Frankie is deaf and blind and has been going to the school for six weeks – is among those calling for action to save the school.

Frankie Maskell, with mum Manda
Frankie Maskell, with mum Manda

She says the specialist care and sign language expertise offered by the school has transformed nine-year-old Frankie’s life in a matter of weeks, and fears the work will be undone if the closure goes ahead.

“It was a very hard decision to move him to the Royal School for the Deaf,” she said. “I had to fight Medway Council and go through the appeal process. Since he’s been there his signing has come on amazingly. He’s not singled out – he’s one of the community. He’s calmer and he’s even trying to use his voice.”

Mrs Maskell said a lot of children at the school were unaware of the news, and she would only tell Frankie once it was confirmed.

“I’ve chosen not to tell him until I get it in black and white,” she said. “The relationships he’s built up – he sees them as family.

Frankie Maskell, who has been going to the Royal School for the Deaf for six weeks
Frankie Maskell, who has been going to the Royal School for the Deaf for six weeks

She said it would be impossible to find another school close to Medway with the expertise, adding: “I’m not prepared to take my child further up the country. Why shouldn’t my child be able to stay near his family? We need to do everything in our power to stop this.”

The non-maintained school, which was established in 1792, looks after up to 55 young people with emotional and behavioural communication difficulties.

It will remain open at least until the end of term but administrators said 120 staff had been made redundant with immediate effect.

The trust had operated through trading difficulties for more than a year, as management tried to maintain services at the school and associated Westgate College.

The college, which offers educational services to young adults, is to close at the end of the current term.

The Care Quality Commission had already placed limits on its services in November while it carries out a review.

Administrators said recent restructuring efforts had been unable to stem the “unsustainable pressure” on the trust’s cashflow.

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