Governors consider judicial review in school land row

JPMT. Woodlands Meed new school, Burgess Hill. pic by steve robards ENGSUS00120120410150951

JPMT. Woodlands Meed new school, Burgess Hill. pic by steve robards ENGSUS00120120410150951

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Governors may apply for a judicial review of West Sussex County Council’s plans to lease school land to an academy trust.

Woodlands Meed special school, off Chanctonbury Road, Burgess Hill, had been in discussion with the council regarding the need to improve and expand its facilities.

We really want to work with the county council on this, but nothing they have said to date has convinced us that they are serious about the needs of our students.

John Clifton, chair of governors, Woodlands Meed

But, when neighbouring Oakmeeds Community College announced it would be joining the University of Brighton Academies Trust, the council said it was obliged to lease it the land.

The decision left the Woodlands Meed governing body “shocked and dismayed” and has prompted more than 1,100 people to sign an online petition supporting the school.

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 has never surfaced and a lack of space has forced Woodlands Meed to turn away students once they reach the age of 14.

Cherry Rickard, whose granddaughter attended Woodlands Meed, signed the online petition and was one of many to recognise how difficult such a situation was for youngsters with special needs.

She said: “It is very hard for children with special needs to be moved around as they find it very unsettling; both they and their parents have so much to put up with that it is cruel and thoughtless to add to their many problems.

“So much time and effort has been spent on creating such a wonderful environment at the school. Why are they the ones who have to suffer?”

Chair of governors, John Clifton, said he and his team had been speaking to the council “for months” asking how it would deliver the required new facilities.

He added: “We still do not have a satisfactory answer and we are currently exploring every means possible of protecting the interests of the most vulnerable children in society, including a judicial review.

“We really want to work with the county council on this, but nothing they have said to date has convinced us that they are serious about the needs of our students.”

The council, though, said there would still be space to expand Woodlands Meed and announced it intended to apply for cash from a new £200million government funding programme.

The programme, which was launched in April by former education secretary Nicky Morgan, is open to bids from councils and charities with “innovative and creative ideas to improve life chances for young people in their local area”.

To sign the petition, log on to Change.org.

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