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woodlands meed burgess hill "You've Completely Failed Us" - County Councillors Blasted At Public Meeting Regarding Woodlands Meed SEN School

7th September 2016

It was standing room only in the drama studio at The Burgess Hill Academy as staff, governors, parents and supporters of Woodlands Meed SEN School put questions to their local county councillors - asking them just how they plan to finish building the school now that they've signed away land to the Brighton University Academies Trust when it was promised to Woodlands Meed.

In attendance was Deborah Myers - the brand new Director of Education and Skills for West Sussex County Council. What happens at the schools in West Sussex falls under her remit. She revealed that she couldn't answer any questions from the public as she was too new to the post.

Deborah said she wanted to listen to the concerns and comments, take them back to HQ and come back with a considered response.

The lack of knowledge was replicated across all 4 councillors present at the meeting which led to a very frustrating 35 minutes of questions from the public.

The councillors and officers have pledged to come back with answers, but it's clear that there is no way that WSCC are going to come up with money and a solution for the school any time soon.

Here's a breakdown of what was asked at the meeting and the responses from the councillors and officers.

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Question: John Clifton -Chair of Governors at Woodlands Meed: "Older pupils at Woodlands Meed have languished in temporarily refurbished buildings and old huts, with leaking roofs, holes in the floor, inadequate toilet and hygene facilities, poor access and sometimes subject to vermin, Since 2012, the county council have made no attempt to complete the building at Woodlands Meed to bring all our learners together on one site as planned in the original county council proposal.

"The original plans were for 14-19 year old students to be housed in a new college building, to be built to the north of our current new school, this was the plan described and approved at the original planning meeting in 2010.

" Given the land now identified has been leased to the Burgess Hill Academy, the county council have frustrated their own ability to complete their original proposal for Woodlands Meed.

"Therefore, familiies would like to know how, and by when, the county council will complete their original proposal for Woodlands Meed thus meeting their legal obligation under the determination of the schools adjudicator and fulfilling their long-standing committment to the children with special educational needs in West Sussex and their families?

Answer: No response.

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Question: Young Woodlands Meed studient Annabelle was given a round of applause following her address to the committee where she said it would not be fair that some students would not be able to continue at the school once they hit the age of 14 due to inadequate facilities.

Answer: Officers declined to comment.

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Question: Baz asked if there’s anything on paper or anything the committee can say that will prove that WSCC are committed to completing the Woodlands Meed building.

Answer: Cllr Peter Griffiths gives a 'political assurance' that the issue has not been ignored! He talks about how the WSCC cabinet members got funding for an all-through school in Worthing (lucky Worthing) Says MPs will be pestered.

Deborah Myers says a discussion took place with the school on August 31st where improving current facilities were discussed and looking at how to complete the whole school site.

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Question: Karen - a Governor at Woodlands Meed, wants to know about the land now that the area designated for the expansion has been signed over to the Burgess Hill Academy. If WSCC do get the funding, where is the land going to come from, what date will an implemental plan be put forward and by which date will the school be completed by?

Answer: Cllr Griffiths claims that the land has been identified, 'We know which bit of land it is' but then refused to reveal where, saying he doesn't know if he’s allowed to tell us, but claimed it will be listed in this minutes of the meeting if it's allowed. People were furious with his response. It's not private land or commercially sensitive, it's public land, of course he can tell us! People around us are doubting that the land has actually been identified.

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Point: Jeremy is a parent of a pupil at Woodlands Meed, he said; "I can recall coming to meetings, saying we didn't want the school here (at Oakmeeds) we wanted it on a different site, somewhere where we could have both sites together. You did it half and half and you've completely failed us"

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Question: Marion, a Governor at Woodlands Meed asks: "I remember, at the first meeting that I ever attended, where there were West Sussex officers, that one sitting opposite me said that they'd been appointed to 'drive through the academy' I would like to ask Deborah Myers who she will be appointing to 'drive through' the completion of our school?

Answer: Deborah Myers "I do know that the person leading on this is my boss, the Corporate Director, she's been dealing with it, supporting the school and doing what she possibly can.

"I really want to be part of this invested interest, making sure i support the school as Director of Education"

Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles "I actually feel quite let down myself, I went to a cabinet meeting on behalf of the town council to say that the school was being built in the wrong place for a number of reasons.

"It was made clear that the second stage of the development would happen in a relatively short space of time. It was stated that this was an objective. What's come to pass now, I feel that the county council has hugely let down the children of Woodlands Meed.

"We will do our utmost as councillors to lobby the cabinet member - unfortunately the cabinet member for education has changed at least three times in the last three years and the current one is very ill - I hope he's improving - so it has been very difficult to lobby anybody on your behalf.

"I do hope that the new Director for Education and Skills will take some strong messages from today and will actually start pushing her colleagues to say 'Why has this happened?'

"It strikes me as a stitch-up to be frank and I am not very proud with what they have done" - Oh the irony of Andrew Barrett-Miles not being happy about the public being stitched up.

Cllr Barrett-Miles admits that he had to find out about the Woodlands Meed situation from the public and not the council. He says he's behind when in fact he feels he should be 'ahead of the game'

He said "I feel I haven't lobbied hard enough to be frank - but that's because I've been playing catch-up" - Maybe Cllr Barrett-Miles shouldn't sit on three different councils and numerous committees and run the town council if it affects his work as a county councillor.

Cllr Andy Petch references a government white paper which is supposedly going to make £200 million available to schools. He wants to know how much WSCC may be getting from that fund.

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Question: Simon Virgo, a parent Governor at Woodlands Meed recalls attending Birchwood Grove 40 years ago, being taught in the very same wooden huts which are being used at the Woodlands Meed College site at the moment. He wants to know what plans WSCC have to bring that accommodation immediately up to 'fit-for-purpose' status

Answer: Cllr Griiffiths refers to a meeting on August 31st where discussions took place between 'very' senior officers and cabinet members about how to upgrade the buildings. He guarantees that the upgrade will happen.

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Question: Sabrina would like to know -in the minds of the councillors - what is the absolute acceptable deadline for funding to be secured and for the children to have a completed school.

Answer: Deborah Myers blames the change of government and refers to the £200 million government white paper - of which details should be released during the Autumn term.

Unbelievably, Cllr Anne Jones tells Sabrina to write to Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames to request him to raise this question in Parliament . WSCC dropped the ball here, not the public, it is our councillors who should be getting the MP to act, it's their fault!

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Question: Sarah is a parent of a pupil at the Woodlands Meed college site who has been taught in portacabins for the past three years, with another two years to go. Sarah says that redevelopment work at the existing site will cause stress and disruption to the learners who already have stress in their lives. She says the council should be pushing through the plans as per the original agreement.

Answer: Cllr Griffiths expresses his sympathy as he is a Governor at Chailey Heritage and knows what the pupils have to put up with when there is change. That's it!?

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Question: A Parent Governor has two disabled children at the school, one of which is in a wheelchair and would have to leave all his friends at 14 and move schools due to inadequate facilities. She'd like to know what councillors would say to him.

Answer: Cllr Griffiths says the council will need to work with the head and the teachers at Woodlands Meed to work out how to communicate the situation to affected children- wow, that's not the answer that was being sought at all.

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Point: Woodlands Meed head teacher Adam Rowland followed up the previous question by saying that he's already had to hold difficult conversations with some pupils for whom the school doesn't have the facilities to enable them to remain past the age of 14. Discussions with other pupils will be taking place in the next few weeks.

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Question: A member of the public asks why were Oakmeeds allowed to convert to an academy to the detriment of Woodlands Meed.

Answer: Cllr Anne Jones thinks that Woodlands Meed losing the land is a good thing as it will now speed up the process as it's turned into a desperate situation. She feels that if Oakmeeds hadn't converted, then Woodlands Meed could have gone on for years without making any headway in getting the college part of the site constructed.

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Question: Tony Balsdon from the Burgess Hill Labour Party: Why wasn’t the land earmarked for Woodlands Meed not taken out of the agreement when Oakmeeds converted to an Academy?
Will money now have to be given to the Burgess Hill Academy to get the land back?
How much money for education is in the pot for Burgess Hill which has been generated from planning applications in the town - the whole idea of taking large amounts of new housing was to improve the infrastructure in the town, so how much is available to spend right now?

Answer: Cllr Griffiths: "Those are three excellent questions, unfortunately there is no one here to give you those answers" *Mass groans from the public* Cllr Griffiths claims that a deep inquiry is currently on-going, trying to find out what section 106 money for education is available.

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Question: Deborah, a parent of a 13-year-old at the school requests that a meeting is arranged through the Woodlands Meed head teacher where councillors and officers come to the school and address all the worried parents and pupils to fully explain "Why on earth we are in this position". "We have got kids having to leave our lovely school and go elsewhere because of somebody mucking up"

Answer: Cllr Griffiths and Deborah Myers pledge to make it happen.

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Question: Sarah talks about how she visited Oakmeeds but decided against sending her daughter to the school due to the state of the building. At the time of the visit she was told that a new two-storey building was going to be built out the back in the car park. Why hasn't it been built instead of the Academy taking land that was promised to Woodlands Meed?

Answer: Cllr Jones responded by saying she knew nothing about it. - She doesn't seem to know very much at all. Was she awake during governor meetings at Oakmeeds?

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Request: Cllr Andy Petch asks the committee if they can write a letter to the cabinet member and the chief executive, requesting direct answers to the main questions raised at tonight's meeting. The suggestion gets a big round of applause from those in attendance.

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Woodlands Meed Discussion CLOSED

Spread the word, West Sussex came ill-prepared when they had to face the public over explaning what's happened to Woodlands Meed.


Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
Werre you are the meeting? What did you make of the disappointing lack of answers? What next for Woodlands Meed? Do you have any faith in West Sussex County Council to sort this issue out quickly?

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