Larkrise School parents and pupils fight closure threat
The plan by Wiltshire's Conservative administration to close Larkrise School in Trowbridge and St Nicholas School in Chippenham goes to the WC 'cabinet' next Tuesday (27th). The schools will be replaced by a new super-school for special needs children at Rowde.
The cabinet report repeatedly states that the council sees the new school as a 'Centre of Excellence' which will attract the admiration of the world. It dismisses concerns about pupils having to travel far from their homes by saying the roads to Rowde are not congested and the council will save money. Extra costs to parents are of course not taken into consideration.
Cabinet will approve consultation on the new school. It will also approve the issue of a statutory notice of a proposal to shut Larkrise by 31st August 2023.
In the consultation leading up to the current proposals the creation of a single school at Rowde was clearly the least popular option. The council dismisses that by claiming that big schools are better.
WC's motive is financial. It claims the reason three schools is too many is that under the current financial regime they have "a cumulative deficit of £1m which will continue to grow in the next 3 years."
The council often uses the poor state of buildings it's supposed to maintain as a reason for closing facilities. Options for building a new school in Trowbridge are dismissed as too difficult or too costly, despite all the development, including new developer-funded schools, taking place in the town.
In another example of typical WC twisted reasoning the report points out that in the consultation people wanted to keep Rowdford School open. This is interpreted as support for closing the others. Similarly, the report states that 58% of Larkrise children don't live in Trowbridge Town, and implies that these children therefore might as well travel to another site.
By going through the process of technically closing all three sites and designating Rowdeford as a brand new super-school, the new establishment has to be an Academy. Academies generally are under direct government control, with minimal Local Authority support. TUPE regulations would give some protection for staff wishing to work for the new establishment, whoever might end up running it.
Although it tries to justify its case by dubious academic arguments, WC's main motive is financial. "The risk of not taking action is that revenue costs of having to place pupils in independent special schools would significantly increase," it says. As well as revenue savings the council hopes to offset the capital costs by selling the Trowbridge and Chippenham sites for development. Against this there will be a need for capital borrowing which will have an impact on future revenue budgets. The extra costs involved in educating special needs children are described as "an unwelcome additional pressure".
WC also believes that by becoming a 'Centre of Excellence' the new super-school would attract 'national leaders' in the way of staff. Apart from being rather disparaging of current staff there's no indication of how this would happen. Bizarrely the Rowde site is also described as being 'close to communities'.
The Friends of Larkrise School are mounting a strong campaign to stop the closure, pointing out the benefits to the children and the town of keeping the school and the pupils in Trowbridge. (See Facebook "Save Larkrise School").
There will be a strong turnout for the cabinet meeting, and campaigners can expect cross-party support.
In the interests of balance here's a release from your WC propaganda department:
A vision for special education in Wiltshire
Plans to ensure every child or young person with special educational needs and or disabilities gets a first class education are being put forward for Wiltshire.
We propose a bold investment of around £20m in two new centres of excellence in the county - purpose-built and amply equipped, giving our children a better start in life than ever before.
The new and extended campuses are proposed for Rowdeford, near Devizes, and Exeter House, Salisbury.
The new direction for SEND in Wiltshire will mean keeping Rowdeford at Rowde, St Nicholas at Chippenham, and Larkrise, Trowbridge, open until the new schools are completed in autumn 2023.
All the pupils and staff teams from Larkrise and St Nicholas will come together in the new, purpose-built modern school at Rowdeford, Rowde, from 2023.
The buildings at Larkrise and St Nicholas are past their prime, out of date and need replacing. They no longer meet Department for Education guidelines on space.
They don't have enough outdoor green areas for children to play and learn in the fresh air.
We also need a new vision because the numbers of children we care for is rising, and the money we have to pay for it is falling.
But this is not about saving money.
The investment means we are committing more to special education needs. Not less. Our vision targets our budget to provide a better education and a better experience for our children.
This vision is based on three years of consultation with families, schools and communities. It offers a future where we concentrate the best facilities, the best teaching, and the best learning environment in specialist locations in the north and south of the county, rather than only being available in some parts of Wiltshire.
It means our expertise and experience can be applied in greater strength with greater purpose and greater focus across two centres, reaching out to all schools.
It might mean a little more travel time for some children. For many it could mean less.
For all, it will promise a better education, better life chances, and better outcomes. It also assures:
- • great teaching from well-trained, well-paid, caring, specialist and dedicated staff;
- • the right facilities and support: hydro-pools, sensory rooms, physio, open outdoor space, speech and language therapy, family care;
- • strong community links - with cafés, community gardens and public playing fields;
- • attractive, comfortable, child-scale buildings - safe, friendly, calm and engaging places with wide corridors and lots of natural light;
- • closer links between SEND schools and neighbouring mainstream schools.
Each have resources the others can benefit from:
- • links with specialist nurseries, offering children with special needs seamless attention from the time they are tots to their teenage years;
- • both sites are on good road routes, central to the home locations of children and young people with SEND and with space to expand.
These proposals will be discussed in the cabinet meeting on 27 November 2018.
We look forward to discussing our vision with parents, families and schools.