Council ‘in denial’ over completion of Burgess Hill school

DM16148283a.jpg. Campaign calling on the county council to finish the Upper School at Woodlands Meed School, Burgess Hill. Headteacher Adam Rowland, right and chair of governors John Clifton and pupils. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-161110-140114008
DM16148283a.jpg. Campaign calling on the county council to finish the Upper School at Woodlands Meed School, Burgess Hill. Headteacher Adam Rowland, right and chair of governors John Clifton and pupils. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-161110-140114008

The county council is ‘in denial’ over the need to complete a Burgess Hill special needs school, its governors have claimed.

Woodlands Meed opened in September 2012 as a single-site special school for 4-19-year-olds, with the plan to complete the school by building a college for older children on the same site.

However the necessary funds have never been identified, with old portable cabins current being used no longer fit for purpose.

A petition calling on West Sussex County Council to ‘deliver the expansion of Woodlands Meed as a priority’ was discussed by councillors today (Friday March 24).

Marion Wilcock, vice-chair of governors at the school, said: “We were given assurances of support but action speakers louder than words and despite all the warm words it feels as though in practice every obstacle has been put in our way.

“We believe that West Sussex is still in denial.”

She explained that rather than the £20m quoted by the county council, their consultants had suggested only £8m would be needed to complete a single-site school.

The county council has already made £1.5m available for works at Woodlands Meed, while petitioners mentioned £2.5m of section 106 developer contributions, the possible sale of the Court Meadow site for housing, and a £3.5m Govermment grant for capital funds for SEND schools.

Ms Wilcock said they would ‘keep on fighting until we have a completed school’.

A motion by Paul High (Con, Worthing West), which stated the council was ‘fully committed’ to working with the governing body of Woodlands Meed to deliver improvements to the school, was passed.

But another by Andy Petch (Ind, Hassocks & Victoria), calling on the Cabinet to deliver new buildings on the former Newick House site ‘as previously promised’, was narrowly rejected.

Mr Petch said it was ‘unacceptable’ that children with special educational needs were in temporary classrooms given a five-year life span around seven years ago.

He explained that this was not just a Mid Sussex issue as pupils came from Worthing, Horsham, Billingshurst, East Grinstead, Ardingly, Balcombe, Washington, Steyning, and Henfield.

Christine Field, deputy leader of the county council, said she did understand the ‘challenges faced by families on a daily basis’, and while they wanted to find an acceptable solution, this could not be done by ignoring the needs of pupils at other special schools across West Sussex.

She said: “The position of the county council is that we regard Woodlands Meed as a complete school albeit on two sites.”

Mrs Field added: “All our children whatever their needs should enjoy excellent facilities, but sadly we do not have unlimited money.”

Although she considered a twin site option ‘sub-optimal’, she believed they could reach a ‘reasonable and proper solution if we work together’.

She also described how Mr Petch’s motion ‘refers to buildings and the broader looser wording of Mr High’s motion will give us the freedom to negotiate what is best for the school’.

Anne Jones (Con, Burgess Hill East) described the temporary part of the site as ‘not suitable for the long term needs’ of the school, but believed the county council was ‘committed to work together for what is best for these children’.

Peter Griffiths (Con, Hurstpierpoint and Bolney) described the teaching at Woodlands Meed as ‘absolutely amazing’, while Pete Bradbury (Con, Cuckfield and Lucastes) accepted that the solution was ‘probably half a loaf solution, but half a loaf is better than none’.

However Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East) felt that the council was ‘blighting the lives of a whole generation of children by a total lack of forward planning and common sense’, calling the ‘current farce’ a ‘disgraceful situation’.

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