Agenda item

Welcome and introductions

Members of Central and South Mid Sussex County Local Committee are Andrew Barrett-Miles, Pete Bradbury, Joy Dennis, Stephen Hillier, Anne Jones, Andrew Lea, Kirsty Lord and Sujan Wickremaratchi.


14.1   The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting.   Members and Officers introduced themselves.


14.2   The Chairman noted the high level of public attendance to discuss Woodlands Meed and agreed to allow time at the start of the meeting for a discussion.


14.3   The Chairman introduced Mr Jupp who had been recently appointed as Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.  Mr Jupp confirmed that he was aware of the current situation with Woodlands Meed and that he was due to attend the school and college to see the daily operation in person.  Mr Jupp explained that he was catching up on the backlog of history with Woodlands Meed and was reading all correspondence.


14.4   Mr Jupp explained that his role was to understand educational requirements and needs across the whole county.  The Progress Statement outlined the review that was due to take place for Woodlands Meed, with a decision expected in early January.


14.5   The Chairman confirmed that Woodlands Meed had been added to the 4 December agenda of the Children and Young People's Services Select Committee where external witnesses would be invited.


14.6   The Chairman invited questions from the public.


  • A pupil spoke about the current arrangements at the school and how the teachers were doing their best despite the issues with the building, such as the lack of hot water.  The Council were asked to honour the promises that were previously made. Mr Jupp thanked the pupil for their comments and confirmed that he would be attending to school to look at the facilities personally.
  • A member of the Complete Woodlands Meed group confirmed that they would continue to fight for the school to ensure their children would not be let down, as she felt that the school was unable to meet its statutory duty.  Questions had been submitted in advance of the meeting concerning the draft Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Inclusion Strategy, which did not refer to Woodlands Meed; provisions for post 16 SEND pupils; details on cost, risks and challenges; and clarity on how the Council would deliver on the promise made to the Department for Education on provision and compliance with statutory obligations.  A response had been received, but it was felt that the questions had not been satisfactorily answered.
  • Queried what had happened to the funds from the sale of the Court Meadow site. Mr Jupp confirmed that the site was up for sale, but had not been sold.  Mr Jupp resolved to investigate what would happen with the funds on sale completion.
  • A parent applauded the staff at the school for their work.  The parent expressed the specific challenges faced by parents of special needs children and their need to be an advocate.  An example was given of children using wheelchairs who were required to use specialist frames to stand, which led to the child being stuck inside and at a disadvantage compared to other students.
  • A parent expressed concerns with the site, and gave examples of situations where hygiene was compromised.  Teaching in huts could raise issues with overheating which could cause issues for vulnerable children.  Children were also required to leave the site to attend classes at other facilities, which impacted their attendance in lessons.
  • An attendee highlighted the assurances previously given by Mr Burrett, former Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, and queried why a review was required and stressed the need to honour the assurances given. Mr Jupp responded that he understood the upset in the room and explained that the plans were a large project and that the initially estimated costs could be inaccurate as the costs were likely to increase.  Mr Jupp confirmed that his role was to ensure that all children in the County had their Special Educational Needs (SEN) met.
  • The Chair of Governors confirmed that they had submitted questions in advance of the meeting concerning the proposal to open a new SEN Free School in place of Woodlands Meed and concerns with the adherence to the Seven Principles of Public Life.  The Chair of Governors rejected the received responses which she considered misleading. The Chairman confirmed that she had spoken with the Director of Education and Skills who had denied the plans for the proposed free school.  Mr Jupp resolved to look into the issue and noted that The Chair of Governors was due to meet with the Director of Education and Skills and resolved to try and attend the meeting if possible.
  • The Chair of Governors gave examples of consultants’ opinions that the required school could be built for £20m and felt that if this was not the case the Council needed to be transparent with the reasons why.
  • The Chair of Governors made it clear that the completion of Woodlands Meed was not linked to school numbers, it was linked to the unsuitable facilities and the failure to comply with Ofsted statutory duties.  A list included 20 issues where buildings did not meet requirements.
  • Attendees in the room raised concerns regarding the needs of children, maintaining childrens’ dignity, the delay in the new school, and the lack of trust with the County Council.  Attention was drawn to the 4000 signature petition for the school which had been voted down at a full council meeting.  The public felt there was no excuse not to deliver the agreed plan and felt that the proposed review was not required.  The public had avoided going to the media as they had no wish to embarrass the Council.  Mr Jupp was asked to provide a press release on plans for the new school.
  • The Public noted the upcoming Select Committee meeting and requested that the meeting be held in Horsham to assist with their attendance. Members resolved to ask the Chairman of the Select Committee to move the meeting to Horsham.


14.7   The Chairman confirmed that she would be meeting with the Chair of Governors at the school and expressed the importance of being well informed and working with Mr Jupp.  The Chairman noted the need for urgency and supported the opinion that a review of the plans was not necessary.  The Chairman had been present at two project board meetings since being appointed to the board and felt there should have been more.


14.8   Members of the Committee spoke about the plans and expressed personal disappointment and shame with the delays and admitted they were embarrassed to represent the Council on this issue.  The delays were unacceptable and the County Council’s priority to provide the best start in life for children should be honoured.  The children deserved adequate facilities.  Members confirmed they had continued to ask questions at full council on the matter, and acknowledged that the new Leader of the County Council had been asked to respond on issues for the school.  Money had been committed as part of the Capital Programme, and any additional money that was required to complete should be allocated. 


14.9   Members gave personal accounts to emphasize they understood the particular fighting that was required by parents of SEN children.  Assurances were given to the attendees that Members had been continually working to keep the Woodlands Meed agenda on track and that they were angry with the lack of progress.  The members asked that Mr Jupp note the seriousness of the concerns raised and that he emphasized the priority to his Cabinet colleagues.


14.10 The Chairman thanked the attendees for coming to the meeting and raising their concerns.