Burgess Hill special school ‘shocked’ at decision to lease land to academy trust

JPMT. Woodlands Meed in Burgess Hill. pic by steve robards ENGSUS00120120410150951
JPMT. Woodlands Meed in Burgess Hill. pic by steve robards ENGSUS00120120410150951
  • Woodlands Meed ‘shocked and dismayed’ at decision to lease land in question to academy trust
  • County council says trust taking over Oakmeeds Community College legally entitled to lease
  • Says it will work with Woodlands Meed over expansion

Governors at a flagship Burgess Hill special school are ‘shocked and dismayed’ at plans to hand over land earmarked for its expansion to an academy trust.

Woodlands Meed, based off Chanctonbury Road, opened in September 2012 with the aim of building a new single-site special school for 4-19-year-olds when two special schools at Court Meadow and Newick House closed.

The school is being forced to make heart-breaking decisions to turn students away from their friends and the staff they know at 14 years old

John Clifton, chair of governors at Woodlands Meed,

However the school now believes that plans for a college are being threatened by a decision to give the land promised for the new buildings to an academy chain due to take over the neighbouring Oakmeeds Community College.

But West Sussex County Council said that although subject to funding being available, it still believed other areas of the site could be used to deliver future expansion of Woodlands Meed.

John Clifton, chair of governors at Woodlands Meed, said they were ‘shocked and dismayed’ by the news and had been told by council officers there was currently no formal plan to complete the school.

He added: “Even if the facilities were adequate, there is not enough room at the former Newick House site to accommodate the students now at the school building and the school is being forced to make heart-breaking decisions to turn students away from their friends and the staff they know at 14 years old, because the Newick House site simply does not have the facilities to meet their needs.

“Governors are concerned that the council have prioritised converting Oakmeeds to an academy for mainstream students over their prior commitment to special needs students. They have vowed to fight for the school saying: ‘We owe it to the children’.”

Mr Clifton explained that currently special needs students were left in inadequate and unsuitable buildings and second-hand 25-year-old portable cabins, when the land earmarked for their development was being handed over to the University of Brighton Academies Trust on a 125-year lease.

A spokesman for WSCC said: “As the governing body of Oakmeeds has elected that the school become an academy the incoming academy trust is legally entitled to a lease of the land and buildings used by that school. The county council is obliged to deliver that. There are however other areas of land which could accommodate an expansion of Woodlands Meed School. It should therefore be possible to meet the needs of both.

“We understand the concerns from Woodlands Meed about the suitability of facilities on the Newick House site and have kept in regular communication about how to achieve what they need, which is why a senior officer visited the school recently to discuss options to ensure suitable facilities are in place until such a time as the new buildings can be delivered. Further discussions will continue during the autumn term to ensure the school has the right facilities to meet the needs of pupils.

“Ensuring that all children, regardless of their level of need, have good quality schooling is one of our top priorities and we are working hard to achieve this for all pupils involved.”

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