More frustration at yet another delay for project to complete Woodlands Meed School

Campaigners have called West Sussex County Council’s latest delay in providing money to build Woodlands Meed college ‘a slap in the face for disabled children’.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 11:50 am
Woodlands Meed School

Teachers, governors and parents expected to hear by the end of this month when and how the council would invest up to £20m in the special needs college, in Burgess Hill.

But that decision has been put back to no earlier than February 29 – the latest in a long line of delays.

A spokesman for Complete Woodlands Meed said campaigners were ‘disgusted’ by the action.

She added: “Extending the decision beyond February’s full council meeting is a dirty trick and justifies our cynicism of any crumbs that [the council] throw at us.”

No one can accuse the Woodlands Meed community of being impatient. The fight for a college has been going on since 2012. The £20m was first put on the table last February, with a decision due in September on when and how it would be spent.

That deadline was pushed back to December, then January and now February.

Marion Wilcock, chairman of governors, quoted author Douglas Adams when she said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

She added: “I think we have got to the stage where you really could not make it up.”

One of the areas in which the council and the school community disagree is the need for a review of the suitability of the current college building, which has been declared ‘not fit for purpose’ in the past.

The campaigners insist West Sussex has all the information it needs about the prefabricated buildings – a view shared by one of the council’s own scrutiny committees in December.

But Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education & skills, said the review was needed to ‘make sure we deliver value for money’.

He added: “We appreciate that the children, parents, teachers and governors of Woodlands Meed are anxious for building work to start and I am keen to support them as much as we can.

“It is vital that we make sure we deliver value for money and spend available funds on improving facilities for SEND children right across West Sussex.”

Later this month, the council’s cabinet will discuss the capital programme, which will include £29.56m for special education for around 5,000 children.

Some £9.56m is lined up for the development of specialist support centres in mainstream schools, additional places in special schools and up to £20m for Woodlands Meed College.

Campaigners said that citing value for money as a cause for delay ‘is not only an insult to all priceless children with special needs, but also uneconomical with taxpayers’ money as we all know delays end up costing more in the long run’.

They added: “We warned West Sussex County Council against building up the hopes of our children only to crush them but yet again they have trampled on the dreams of these most vulnerable children.

“The strength of feeling from councillors who attended the scrutiny committee back in December seems to have been either superficial or ignored as the key decision makers clearly are content to further extend the suffering of our children.”

Mrs WIlcock previously said governors had already been told by the Department for Education what was required of a building for special education – information they were happy to share with the council.

She added: “Are they adopting the age old tactic of ‘if you don’t get the answer you want the first time, keeping paying for consultants until you find one who will tell you what you want to hear’?

“The key point is that since 2012, the pupils at the college have been in accommodation which does not meet statutory standards, and does not allow the school to provide the full curriculum.

“Each and every delay is critically affecting the education of our pupils.”

“We were promised new councillors in post, a new approach and asked to give them time to get up to speed. 

“Well, we have done that. We have a new leader and a new cabinet member for education and have received no information, no communication, and experienced yet more delays and frustration.”