Funding decision for works at Woodlands Meed school delayed

Woodlands Meed School
Woodlands Meed School

‘If there’s a problem, tell us’ was the message from Woodlands Meed parents after a decision on funding for the special school’s college was pushed back to November.

The school, in Burgess Hill, has been waiting for years for a permanent college to be built at its Birchwood Grove Road site and was expecting an announcement from West Sussex County Council by the end of September.

With the decision delayed while all options are reviewed, members of the parent and community-led Complete Woodlands Meed Campaign, said they were ‘optimistic’ but concerned that there might be an impact on the proposed September 2021  opening day.

A spokesman said: “Despite a positive year so far, with £20million being promised for the college build, history reminds us to be sceptical especially given a recent lack of transparency.

“Uncertainty around a viable build option is threatening the target opening date.

“The campaign calls for full transparency with any slippage requiring a revised timeline being honestly communicated to reduce anxiety.

“Our community’s most vulnerable children are students of Woodlands Meed and must never be failed again.”

Sandra Boyd, vice-chairman of governors, said: “Following a series of very productive meetings with the county council in the spring and early summer, we have been advised that technical studies are under way but that the county are not yet ready to meet the governors to discuss the results of this work.

“Naturally we are very disappointed at this delay and are in urgent contact with the county to move things forward in order to meet our deadline of opening the new college in September 2021.”

The need for a college has been the source of some enmity between the various parties.

The school opened in 2012 with pledges already in place to expand the facilities to include a college for 14-19-year-olds.

The funding for that college didn’t surface and a lack of space forced Woodlands Meed to turn away students once they reach the age of 14.

Matters were not helped when the council leased playing field land at the school’s Chanctonbury Road site – which had originally been earmarked for the college – to a neighbouring academy.

Earlier in September Marion Wilcock, chairman of governors, said the school had been told that, unless work on a new college started in October, it was unlikely to be finished in time for a September 2021 opening.

Mrs Wilcock said: “In accordance with good governance, the governors are making contingency plans for the risk that a suitable new building which meets the needs of the pupils is not proposed and/or cannot be delivered by September 2021.”

The final decision will be made by Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education & skills.

They campaign published a response from him, assuring them that the delay was ‘merely to ensure that all the required work is completed satisfactorily and that we get things right first time’.

A county council spokesman said: “The time-scale for a decision on the allocation of funding for Woodlands Meed has been revised in the Forward Plan to allow sufficient time to produce a review of options for the project.

“We appreciate this delay is disappointing news for those associated with the school and we will communicate the outcome of the review once it is completed.”