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Full Report: Woodlands Meed Campaigners Grill West Sussex County Council Over The Unfinished School Site

21st February 2018
By Peter Chapman

'I want you to tell me if it's true that we're not important?'
That was the question put to West Sussex County Council last night by Annabelle, a teary-eyed Woodlands Meed School pupil as campaigners renewed their fight for the completion of the school that they were promised.

It was standing room only as a huge number of supporters of Woodlands Meed SEN School in Burgess Hill crammed themselves into the ludicrously small venue of Haywards Heath Library to press the County Local Committee and their officers for answers as to what progress they've made in completing the Woodlands Meed full school project.

Cllr Pete Bradbury
told the meeting that he helped get Woodlands Meed built as he did a lot of campaigning when his (now ex) wife was the head of governors at Court Meadow school. He said they have his sympathy and support. He added that the children of Woodlands Meed do matter.

Baz, teacher at the school site
said he wants to be able to tell the parents that their children will be able to stay at Woodlands Meed right through until they are 19. He said that at the moment the council don't seem to have anything in place to ensure this can happen. He wants to know where we stand.

Cathy Pilbeam, teacher at the college site -
asks if any of the committee have visited the college site and invites those that haven't to come and spend a few days shadowing staff so that they can begin to fully appreciate the issues and short fallings at the venue. Some of the committee pledge to do so.

Sabrina Gant, Parent
asks Deborah Myers about the council's obligation to meet the children's EHCPs ( education, health, care plan ) and when we can expect the college site to be able to meet this obligation?

She was also keen to know how many times the council's 'Task and Finish Group' have met since the initial meeting where they decided the terms of reference.

Sabrina asks for some evidence to be provided by the council to prove that they have been meeting with the school to discuss the issues.

She finishes by asking when will the council send out a communication to the parents to let them know exactly what is happening.

Cllr Peter Bradbury said that a lot of things have happened in the past, but that 'we are where we are now.' He said that rather than recriminate about the past, we want to know from Deborah Myers what the future looks like.

Karen George - Campaigner says that she finds the situation very upsetting. Traction was being made with presenting the petition to full council last year. She said that the campaigners are not trying to be difficult, but information on the WSCC website and from councillors is rather scarce and it's not clear what's going on. There shouldn't be additional barriers being put up when these children have enough to deal with in their lives. It's a year on and we don't seem to have made any progress.

She said: "If I was at work and I didn't have a strategy in place and a funding model or proposal, I would be sacked."

A transport provider for the school stated how striking it is that the college building is not fit for purpose. He said that it's not suitable for wheelchairs - it's as plain and simple as that.

He also wanted to know if WSCC can use their compulsary purchase powers to take back the land they had to give to Oakmeeds when they became the Burgess Hill Academy. Part of the land was going to be used to build the college extension for Woodlands Meed.

Cllr Kirsty Lord
addressed her own committee and urged all those who haven't yet been to the college site to go and see what its like for themselves. She said that simple things like going to the toilet takes too long as students with mobility issues are having to trek from their outside classrooms, across the playground, into the main building and back again. In adverse weather conditions that is inappropriate. More time should be spent on learning.

Local councillor Anne Jones
admits that she hasn't spent any time at the college site?!?!?! She's looking forward to visiting and thinks that the future is positive for Woodlands Meed.

Deborah Myers - Director for Education and Skills at WSCC starts by saying every single child in West Sussex is important to the council. She reveals it may not appear so on the surface, but beneath the scenes a lot has been happening.

Originally it was agreed to replace both outdoor double classrooms with two new ones which would both incorporate a hygiene room and well as fitting a new hygiene room inside the main college building.

She stated that the governors then asked for this funding to be put aside and added to in the future in order to achieve something bigger and more permanent for the college.

Deborah said that many members of the governing body of Woodlands Meed have changed (debunked later on) so over the past year she's had to almost start the discussions again.

She claimed that talks with Headmaster Adam Rowland and the chair of governors have taken place in the past few days via phone and email and that ideas are being shared.

Deborah is concerned the money in place to install the internal hygiene unit through the 'special provision capital fund' will be lost as only a few people have responded positively to the council's consultation and it needs more if it's to actually go ahead. (the audience calls out that it will lead to the loss of a classroom)

She informs the audience that the council is unable to use their compulsory purchase powers to buy back the land given to the Burgess Hill Academy as the department of education trumps the county council. However, WSCC have been looking at other opportunities and creative ways to do things.

Once again Deborah refers to the school having a new governing body as holding progress up and that things can now start to move forward. (This excuse does not wash!)

Deborah pledges to supply a list of dates and of who was present at meetings where Woodlands Meed has been discussed over the past year.

A Parent
says that he is now even less convinced that there is actually a detailed plan in the offering. What are the alternatives to a compulsory purchase of the land? What might a comprehensive plan for the college look like - rather than just talk about fudging?

Deborah Myers
says the discussions taking place now are exactly about that. She said they were put on hold largely due to a change with the governing body. The council now need to re-establish what they need to do and how they're going to go about doing that.

A member of the audience
asks where the link is for the online consultation with regards to supporting a new hygiene room for the main college building. She's looked (during the meeting) and cannot find it. The response it that people who supplied their email address during the meeting will be contacted. (What about everyone else!)

A school governor
points out to Deborah Myers that only one of the three governors on the committee had left, so she doesn't see why discussions were put on hold. It's not a totally new governing body. She also points out that the possible installation of a new hygiene room would see the removal of a classroom which will further restrict the pupil's access to the full curriculum.

Deborah Myers
says that the 2017 elections saw the task and finish group suspended during this period and that it's not yet started up again due to a change in cabinet member. (10 months ago!)

Another governor
also present at the meeting says there's been minimal changes as to who the governors are and that their position has never changed. 'The governors passionately want to reach a solution to the issues raised by the people at this meeting' The governor refused to tell Pete Bradbury if they support the provision of a new hygiene room due to previous 'history' around them. (It's possibly a trap if they accept and could end hopes of substantial works at the college site)

Sabrina Gant, Parent
refers to the £1.5 million for extra external classrooms and hygiene rooms. She wants to know if this sum of money would give children "Access to the full curriculum such as Science and DT, full wheelchair access, adequate heating, air conditioning and hot water to wash their hands with. It's quite deplorable that in a first world country, children cannot wash their hands with hot water at school."

Carol Nye, Woodlands Meed teaching assistant
would like to know what is happening to the old Court Meadow building in Cuckfield and will proceeds from any sale of the land go to funding a new building for Woodlands Meed?

Cllr Pete Bradbury
says that the Court Meadow site is still under consideration for what's going to happen to it. All redundant buildings are returned to a central pool. Bradbury couldn't comment on promises that the proceeds from the sale of the Court Meadow site would be used for Woodlands Meed. He said such an agreement wouldn't be the normal way in which the County Council operates.

John Clifton, former chair of Governors
refuses to let Cllr Bradbury bring an end to the discussions and wants to have his say. He says this situation has gone on long enough. The councillors here tonight are our representatives and they are responsible for ensuring that the council gets the job finished "So will you please just get on and do it." (Cue huge applause)

Cllr Pete Bradbury
said that this committee doesn't have any executive power over the situation. His suggestion is to minute all the comments from the people at the meeting and the responses from Deborah Myers, for them to be passed to cabinet member Richard Burrett for his considerations and "ask him to take note of the strong depth of feeling that surrounds the current situation in respect of the Woodlands Meed school."

Cllr Bradbury also suggests that this item is put on the agenda for a future meeting and to ask Deborah Myers to come back and report on what progress has been made.

"All we can do is to make sure that what you've said tonight is heard in the right quarters and we'll ask them to report back to us."

A member of the public
asks who the cabinet member is so that we can "volley them too"

Cllr Bradbury reveals that the cabinet member for Education and Skills is Cllr Richard Burrett. His email address is richard.burrett@westsussex.gov.uk .

Cllr Andrew Barrett-Miles
calls for far better communication to keep all interested parties fully up-to-date with what's going on.

In addition, Barrett-Miles said that waiting four or five months for the next county local committee meeting is too long and asks Deborah Myers to look at ways to improve communication as it might help ease some of the anger and frustration.

Karen George, Campaigner
thanks the council for letting supporters air their views and concerns, it's much appreciated.

Karen says it's a bit unfair that it's always Deborah Myers that always has to face the public. She'd like to have cabinet member Richard Burrett address the parents and public as he's the decision maker. It's also suggested that he too comes and visits the college site. Cllr Bradbury said that it's a good suggestion and will add it to the list of things to put to the cabinet member.

Cllr Pete Bradbury
finishes off by thanking all the people for taking the trouble to come and speak to the committee this evening, for being forthright and frank in their views. He paid tribute to young pupil Annabelle for being so brave to open the discussions

For more reaction from the meeting and to get information on the campaign, please visit the 'Complete Woodlands Meed' Facebook page here:

Spread the word, the fight against West Sussex Council to complete Woodlands Meed SEN school has been reignited

Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
What do you make of the responses from West Sussex County Council at the County Local Committee Meeting

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