Vulnerable children in Sussex left without secondary place after shock 'cruel' decision

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

Parents of pupils at a school in Sussex have branded a decision to suddenly withdraw secondary education for boys with autism and ADHD as 'cruel'.

Brantridge School in Staplefield near Haywards Heath, which has always been a primary, had only started offering teaching to year seven this September after receiving permission from West Sussex County Council in January.

Pupils have been learning in temporary units with a vision to create something more permanent, but the local authority says they have not been able to reach an agreement with the land owner and the blueprint can no longer progress as planned.

Despite being six weeks into the new term and having settled in, children in year six and seven will have to find new places, an announcement which has brought huge disappointment.

Brantridge School in Staplefield, Haywards Heath Credit: ITV Meridian

Year 7 pupil Noah said, "This school has brung me on from where I was too where I am now, and it is helped me a massive margin. So I'm really I'm really disappointed that the council has just waved it in front and just taken it away"

Noah's friend Aiden told ITV News, "I like it there, quite much, and it makes me feel quite comfortable when I know everybody. Oh, the new kids and everything and tops to the chef. The chef is very good."

While Year 6 student Ewan, who was expecting to carry on at Brantridge said,

"I've been looking forward to staying with my friends, and I'm at the school because I know everyone", says but when I go into a secondary school, brand new and I don't know anything, that's why I wanna stay here."

Parent Sian Juden has setup a petition calling for the decision to be reversed and said the announcement is symptomatic of an education system unsupportive of children with special educational needs.

"It already is taking a massive hit that mental health. Consistency is key and they've all had such a traumatic past when it comes to their education.

"They've all gone from pillar to post and been failed so many times and to then believe that they're not going to have to go through that again because they think they can stay on here into their 16, it's just the worst thing that they could have had happen to them."

Another parent, Jessica Barham said, "My son's got quite extreme behavioral needs. But if he's in somewhere where he's understood and he's calm, he can actually achieve.

"That's the difference that a school like Brantridge can offer our boys. The right environment to learn but to also be themselves because they are all individual. Our boys are being badly let down."

"It's cruel" says fellow parent Lisa Collett.

"It's cruel to put our children through such a traumatic time. All the provisions in the area are full. It makes it even more complicated for us."

This September was the first time the school had extended its primary provision to secondary level Credit: ITV Meridian

West Sussex County Council claim it's now supporting the families with the process to find new secondary schools but parents argue there are a lack of adequate and suitable places available.

1.49 million pupils receive SEN but only a quarter have a specialised learning and healthcare plan.

Sian has accused the Department of Education of rejecting funding for vulnerable children.

"There are just so many children being failed by the system" says Sian.

"This is just one school with one issue, but there's a whole national problem going wrong with these poor children that are having to battle and their parents having to advocate for them."

"They should just be getting the help just because they're not straight and go to mainstream and have that straight education should mean they left behind and it shouldn't mean that they are treated any differently."

  • Eleanor Wright from the charity SOS! Special Educational Needs explains that difficulties in vulnerable children receiving the right education is a common problem

A West Sussex County Council spokesperson said,

"We are committed to ensuring every child in West Sussex, especially children with additional needs, receives an education that enables them to flourish and fulfil their potential.

"We share the Brantridge school community’s disappointment at the uncertainty of a permanent new secondary school being possible at Brantridge. This is not a question of funding, the issue is because we have not been able to reach an agreement with the landowner of the proposed secondary site which would enable the County Council to commit to the substantial funding required. Our position is supported by the Department for Education.

"We are working to secure an agreement, unfortunately this has not been possible in time to guarantee on-going secondary provision for the current Year 7, or for the current Year 6 from September 2023. We are working closely with the school and the academy trust to find a long-term solution.

"We would like to reassure parents and carers that we are working to ensure every West Sussex child at Brantridge will be found a secondary education which meets their individual needs."

Mims Davies, Conservative MP for Mid Sussex said:

"A number of local parents have very recently approached me about this unfolding situation and I have liaised directly with West Sussex County Council (WSCC) Cabinet Member, Cllr Nigel Jupp, to raise the profile of their concerns and get clarity of the issues. 

"I am disappointed that an agreement between the landlord, another council in London, and WSCC has not progressed as efficiently as WSCC had anticipated and completely appreciate parents’ deep frustrations about the impact on their children’s education path and what is next for their youngsters at the academy. 

"I have offered my strong support to WSCC to progress this matter with the landlord and my casework team are available to parents who are Mid Sussex constituents to support their enquiries regarding alternative provision for September 2023.  A number of students travel into this Special school from outside of the Mid Sussex area so I will also additionally liaise with MP colleagues to add their voices to this matter. 

"I genuinely hope that this can be resolved swiftly so WSCC and the School, part of the Orchard Hill College Academy Trust, can move forward on this exciting project to provide secondary places at Brantridge. Significant investment is there for the students to all benefit from and I will be determinedly supporting as swift a progress as possible on behalf of the young people who need to be put at the heart of this by all so they can thrive in the next stage of their learning."

Department for Education (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A Department for Education spokesperson said,

"We recognise the pressures on councils, who have responsibility for providing appropriate education for all children in their area, including for children with special educational needs and disabilities – that’s why we are investing £2.6 billion in capital funding between 2022 and 2025 to help deliver thousands of new places.

"This is in addition to increasing the high needs funding to £9.1 billion overall this year to help councils with their costs and will continue to work with them in targeted ways, offering direct support and intervention where necessary, so parents can feel confident their children’s needs are properly supported."

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