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Wiltshire Council withdraws decision to close special schools

Parents said the closures would have a huge impact on their children. Credit: ITV West Country

Parents of children with special educational needs in Wiltshire are delighted after the Council agreed to extend a public consultation and withdraw its decision to close three special schools.

Larkrise School in Trowbridge, St Nicholas School in Chippenham and Rowdeford School in Devizes were all earmarked for closure because they were at full capacity.

The Council proposed for a new 'super-school' to be built near Devizes.

The authority has now announced it will consider other options on how to invest £20m into special school education, after campaigners argued the closures would have a huge impact on their children.

Parents from Larkrise in Trowbridge and St Nicholas in Chippenham protested against the proposals. Credit: ITV West Country

Parents from Larkrise and St Nicholas launched a legal challenge against the plans and were due to attend a hearing in April.

South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison held a debate in the House of Commons earlier this month on the issue.

He said: "My vulnerable young constituents and their families want the money spent on Larkrise rather than on a new mega school miles from home."

MP Andrew Murrison supported the Larkrise families. Credit: ITV West Country

The Council said in a statement yesterday (Monday 25 March):

Wiltshire Council is extending its consultation on investing £20m into special school education after an agreement was reached with families. A group of families had taken a case to court about the process and had been granted a hearing to consider elements of the case, scheduled to be heard next month. In order to foster good working relationships with families, prevent further delay and to conserve public money and cost for both parties, the council has now agreed a new way forward. Wiltshire Council has agreed to withdraw the decision to approve a statutory notice about the closure of three special schools (Larkrise, Rowdeford and St Nicholas), and the related notice regarding the opening of a new special school in Rowdeford.

– Wiltshire Council

All responses from the previous consultation, between 9 January and 1 March this year, will be now treated as part of a "pre-publication consultation" and will still be considered as part of the process.

The cabinet will make a decision about the next steps by the summer, after the end of this extended consultation period

All responses, including those advocating options that differ from the proposal to close the three schools and open a single school in Rowdeford, will be fully considered.

– Wiltshire Council

Terence Herbert, Director of Children's Services at the Council, said: "We all want the very best for our children and young people with SEND. Schools in the north of the county are full and there will need to be an additional 220 spaces by 2023."

We want to work with families and staff to find a solution that both meets the need for additional places, improves outcomes for children and young people with special needs and disabilities who are educated in our mainstream, as well as special schools. To achieve this, we will carry out further consultation and work with all our families so we can focus on the important job of providing all our pupils with the best education and support.

– Terence Herbert, Director of Children's Services at Wiltshire Council