Latest Woodlands Meed Meeting With West Sussex County Council Fails To Inspire Confidence
20th October 2016
Campaigners were yet again left frustrated by West Sussex County Council as there is still no clear plan for the completion of the full Woodlands Meed school site.
The meeting that took place on Wednesday evening (5th October) was necessary after councillors and officers came to September's county local committee meeting completely ill-prepared to deal with questions after it was revealed that land for the college site at Oakmeeds had been signed away to the University of Brighton Academies Trust.
L-R: Cllrs Andrew Barrett-Miles, Cllr Anne Jones, John Clifton (Chair of Governors at Woodlands Meed), Graham Olway (WSCC Officer), Deborah Myers (WSCC Officer), Cllr Peter Griffiths.
The meeting lasted around 90 minutes and allowed parents and governors to comment on the situation and to ask additional questions of the county council representatives. It got very raw and emotional at times.
More importantly, it was time for WSCC to come back with answers from last month...
Why hasn't the full school site been completed yet?
Deborah Myers says she's gone away and found out as much information as possible. She repeats that the agreement for the completion of the college site was always subject to future funding and that it's very clear in the original report.
What's happened to the land at Oakmeeds previously promised to Woodlands Meed?
There was still confusion regarding 'T' Block during this meeting. At first it was said it's no longer available and out of the equation. Later on, Graham Olway said that the legal agreement drawn up when the land was signed over to the Burgess Hill Acadamy does have an option for Woodlands Meed to have 'T Block' but would depend on some conditions - i.e WSCC securing funds for Burgess Hill Academy to have a new block. It was also said that Woodlands Meed have an option to take another plot of land on the site.
A member of the audience called upon Cllr Peter Griffiths to now reveal the exact location on the site at Oakmeeds where the Woodlands Meed College could be built - something he claimed he knew at the last meeting but wasn't sure if he could tell us at the time. Cllr Griffiths stuttered and stalled until Chairman John Clifton answered that 'T-Block' is 4,800sqm in size and that Woodlands Meed have been offered an alternative plot of just 2,800sqm. "You do the maths" he said.
Measures To Improve The Current College Site:
On 31st August, an offer was made, that three new mobile classroms and a hygiene unit could be provided to the existing Woodlands Meed College site and if accepted, it could be in place by September 2017.
John Clifton says Woodlands Meed college site desperately needs some upgrades as there are holes in the floor, but that in no way addresses the fact that the school site is much better equipped and that's where they need to be.
A parent says that the proposed improvements to the college site sounds like it's WSCC's cheap solution and may mean they don't push forward with the college relocation/build.
Graham Olway (WSCC Officer) claims WSCC won't just deliver new temporary buildings to the current college site and then run away. He sees the long-term future of the college at the site of Woodlands Meed school next to Oakmeeds/Burgess Hill Academy.
Cllr Anne Jones questioned the design of the Woodlands Meed school site and wonders why there is so much wasted space which may have been able to have fitted in the facilities needed.
Cllr Jones then goes on to suggest that the current college site could essentially be bodged to provide the required facilties - like it would be a great long-term solution. Her words are met with hostility from the audience!!
John Clifton (Woodlands Meed) puts Anne Jones in her place and says everyone in the school community is on board with having the whole school joined together and that having a seperate college site is NOT good enough!
Freedom Of Choice For SEN Pupils Affected By The Inadequate Facilities
WSCC were once again accused of providing for socially capable students, but excluding those who aren't - failing 14-19 year-olds of the education they are due.
There was a call for WSCC to fund private education for all those pupils who they are failing, giving them a free choice of how they'd like to be educated. A letter has been signed by parents, addressed to the council.
A parent says her son would not be able to attend the college site due to the lack of facilities. She is of the understanding that WSCC spend an eye-wateriing £18 million per year on out of county school placements, so why can't they get the college site completed and educate children in living in West Sussex in their own county?
Woodlands Meed Headteacher Adam Rowland says his immediate fight is that 2 families have been notified that their young people may not be able to stay, and that a pupil has to leave in the Summer. He says that another 4 may also have to leave over the next few years as they approach the college age as their needs cannot be met - i.e the situation for remedial work is an 'emergency'
Why Hasn't The Closed Court Meadow School Site Been Sold Yet?
Cllr Janice Henwood wants to know why Court Meadow has not yet been sold and that it would bring in lots of money as its in Cuckfield. Graham Olway says he didn't research this as he didn't think it was relevant. John Clifton said it is relevant and should be part of the meeting. Graham Olway starts to stumble, then apologises and says he'll investigate. People are NOT happy.
A governor says she understands that if a building hasn't been used for education for 8 years and is subsequently sold, then a council is not obliged to use the proceeds from that sale on education. Are WSCC waiting for the clock to tick?
*BHU understands that WSCC may have already transferred the asset away from education
Why Was Court Meadow School Vacated So Soon?
The issue was raised a number of times during the meeting that Court Meadow School shouldn't have been vacated as soon as the new school site was opened,
Court Meadow had the equipment vital for the more disabled pupils that the current 'temporary' college site (at Newick house) doesn't. It was said that it wasn't fair to close the site on the basis that funding 'MAY' come in the future.
Retaining Court Meadow at a reduced level would have ensured that pupils could have stayed educated in the local area and not sent out of county when they turned 14-years-old.
Cllr Peter Griffiths says that Court Meadow was ghastly and not a good teaching and learning environment. Parents were furious with him for his comments, they were very fond of the venue, saying it was lovely, caring place with excellent staff.
What Is The Absolute Acceptable Deadline For The Whole School Site To Be Completed?
It's asked what is the absolute acceptable deadline is for the whole school to be built. Parents want to feel secure, knowing where their children's future lie.
Deborah Myers again says its about getting central government funding and that some other bids has been submitted to the Departments For Education in recent years,but turned town.
Deborah says the County Council are being totally honest with everyone, and claims WSCC would tell the school and parents if it turns out that WSCC won't be getting any of the £200 million.
Deborah 'understands' that Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames has been lobbying other MPs, claiming it's an issue that's 'Close to his heart'.
Government To Make £200 Million Available To Special Needs Education?
More details were sought on the proposals of the government making £200 million available for special educational needs, and how likely it will be that Woodlands Meed may be able to claim it.
Graham Olway (WSCC officer) says that WSCC are actively having discussions with the Department For Education, seeking to know when the governent is making the next chunk of money available that the county could bid for.
It was said that if the money is distributed around the country working to a set
formula, then WSCC would only get £2 million at best, which is nowhere near enough for Woodlands Meed.
It was also learnt that there are other SEN schools in the county that would also want some money, and if government give it directly to WSCC to choose where to spend it, then Woodlands Meed could miss out as it seems that 'Chichester gets everything'
Graham Olway says that £200 million is needed just in West Susex and that bids WILL be submitted for other schools too in our county that have an equal need.
Section 106 Money For The New College Site?
Parents asks why hasn't Section 106 money (paid by local property developers for residential housing) been used for the college? Graham Olway says the money is around additional places and not about improving the condition of buildings.
It's pointed out by a parent that with Burgess Hill expanding at its current rate, it will result in at least another 160 children moving here with special needs. This means extra buildings WILL be needed and they can't just keep bolting on additional classrooms like they do at other schools (Birchwood Grove for example)
Deborah Myers says there is a shortage of places across the county and has asked for a full review of all the special schools and their specialisms and provisions, but also of any special provisions in the manstream schools to ensure the right provisions are in the right areas to meet the needs of the children.
21,500 children have identified special educational needs in West Sussex, thats 19%.
Other Sources Funding
It was discussed if it's possible for Woodlands Meed to approach the Department For Education with a bid for a certain percentage of the total cost to build the college site (In hope of having a better chance of success) and then to seek the rest of the money from other sources such as the sale of WSCC assets like as Court Meadow School, claiming Section 106 money from all the new local development and even to see if Woodlands Meed are eligible to apply for a national lottery grant,.
Graham Olway said that this would be possible and that it has been done by other schools.
He said that WSCC will work alongside Woodlands Meed to submit the best bid possible when the time comes.
Officers Are Requested To Attend Committee Meetings
School Governor Karen George said 'We are going round in circles' She has been appointed as chairman of a sub-committee of Governors to get the two objectives done. She requests a single point of contact, someone senior to work with the sub-committee.
Deborah Myers says that she will be the point on contact. Deborah is asked to be commit to coming to the committee meetings, Deborah says she will if her busy schedule allows. Karen wants WSCC to committ a staff member to be available. Graham Olway may be available to attend if Deborah cannot.
CLOSE OF MEETING
If you've read the full report, then you'll have worked out that the future is not looking good for Woodlands Meed if the county council are pinning their hopes on money only from central government.
We'll be keeping in close contact with the Woodlands Meed governors and will bring you updates as they become available.
|Spread the word, there's still no adequate plan to ensure the full Woodlands Meed school site is completed
Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What do you think of WSCC's position on Woodlands Meed? Is it a bodge job on the current college site?