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West Sussex County Council In Yet Another Children's Services Scandal?

16th November 2019 | By Peter Chapman

It was standing room only at Albourne Parish Hall on a night full of tears and emotion as for 66 minutes, campaigners, parents, governors and even councillors from the ruling administration opened fire on West Sussex County Council for their failure to progress a new college building for Woodlands Meed SEN school.

The biggest revelation at the meeting - held on Tuesday 12th November - came from Marion Wilcock - chair of Governors at Woodlands Meed, who sat in wait before dropping some bombs that shocked the room...

You can hear what Marion said below:

Not only did we learn that WSCC *could* be dropping Woodlands Meed in favour of going after a new Free School for SEN provision in early 2020 from central government, Marion also revealed that the Governors are very much at odds with WSCC with regards to the cost of the new building. WSCC say it will now total £25 million whereas Woodlands Meed have multiple contractors saying it can be completed inside the £20 million budget.

It's almost like WSCC are looking for excuses not go ahead with the project which they were so proudly beaming about back in February.

The Governors released the following statement after the meeting:

At the CLC meeting Cllr Jupp stated that the decision on Woodlands Meed (originally due in September 2019) has been deferred yet again until January 2020 “to allow a full review to take place”.  All meetings and information have been stalled since 4th July “to allow a review to take place”.  It is difficult to conceive what could possibly be being reviewed which takes six months and requires so much secrecy that no one is allowed to know what it is that is being reviewed.

The latest update on the Forward Plan issued today still shows the decision date as November 2019 …so who knows…..

The new SEN Strategy has been given as a reason for the delay in replies given to Councillors questioning the situation.  There is of course currently no such formal strategy as it has yet to be formally approved by the Cabinet Member for Education.  The Head of Inclusion was asked to identify where in the draft strategy reference has been made to Woodlands Meed and the impact of the strategy on the new build.  The response from Paul Wagstaff Director of Education was “…The only implication that this could have on Woodlands Meed College is that we would not necessarily require additional places at the college on top of those already provided…”.  So we still have 102 students in accommodation which does not meet their educational needs, Strategy or no Strategy.

Paul Wagstaff is due to meet the Head and Governors on 29 November “to explain the new strategy”.

WSCC have decided to set up a new Project Board to implement the new Strategy (at such time as it is formally approved) and in a letter to all governors in the County invited volunteers to sit on this board.  Governors from Woodlands Meed responded within hours of receiving the invitation but have been told “We’re sorry, but we’re afraid that there isn’t space to accommodate you on the SEND and Inclusion Strategy Programme Board or the Task and Finish groups”.

It has now been agreed that the Children and Young Persons Select Committee meeting which was scheduled to be held on 4th December, will now be held on 4th December at the County Hall building in Horsham.  The Governors and a representative of CWM have been invited to address the meeting as external witnesses.  This is a public meeting.  Further information will be provided as soon as these are made available by WSCC.

The very dedicated 'Complete Woodlands Meed' campaign group also released a statement following the meeting too:

What Happens Next?

On Wednesday 4th December at 10:30am, there is to be a meeting of the 'Children and Young People's Services Select Committee'. We undertstand that representatives from the school will have an opportunity to address the committee.

The meeting location is:
County Hall North - Park St, Horsham RH12 1XH

The agenda will be added nearer the time on the WSCC website here: https://westsussex.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=164&MId=2239

Please make it along if you can!

Spread the word, the battle to complete Woodlands Meed has intensified yet again.

Got an opinion on this story? Leave a comment below.....
Will you be coming to support Woodlands Meed on Tuesday evening at 7pm?

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