WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Wiltshire Council plans to close three special needs schools, including St Nicholas School in Chippenham and Larkrise School in Trowbridge, in a cost-saving move to replace them with a new mega facility in a remote location for 350+ children with additional needs and disabilities.
WHY IS THIS WRONG?
Our children have complex and severe learning and physical disabilities. Some are on oxygen, some have life-limiting conditions, while many have autism and/or epilepsy. A lot of our children would not cope in such a large, impersonal school setting, encountering numerous unfamiliar faces every day. Many would be distressed by the longer bus journeys, which would be the case for all but a few local children, and could trigger seizures, meltdowns, and make their long day even longer, which isn’t conducive to learning.
What’s more, the rural location has poor road and transport links, making it difficult for families, students, staff and paramedics to access, and will put vulnerable children’s health at risk as they will be further away from A&E departments.
Denying our children the chance to be educated in their local communities is contradictory to the policy of specialist provision to be local, small scale and in the community, and is contradictory to advancing equality of opportunity for the disabled.
All of these factors create potential barriers to education for children with special needs, whose circumstances already mean that the process of education is challenging for them. The requirement for local, easily accessible special needs schools is therefore all the greater.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
Students at St Nicholas and Larkrise Schools are at the hearts of our communities, and having a local special needs school promotes inclusion, which research shows time and again produces better outcomes for disabled people.
An ‘outstanding education' for these pupils is about learning life skills embraced within their ever-growing and thriving communities alongside their peers in mainstream schools. These life-learning experiences are even more vital for children with special needs, who face not only the challenges of education but also of their inclusion into the community. Most children like ours do not leave home at 18, go to university, travel the world. But one day, they are going to grow up and leave school. And if school is miles away in a small village they never visit out of school hours – somewhere they've only ever been to on a bus or in a taxi – then where will they belong?
This is why we must keep special schools local!
WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
Parents of Larkrise and St Nicholas Schools are united by a common cause, and have so far run successful petitions and protests. We adore our children and are inspired by the resilience they demonstrate daily in the face of enormous challenges. Many of our children have no voice, so we have to shout for them!
We have instructed a fierce legal team consisting of Solicitor Keith Lomax from Watkins Solicitors and Barrister Steve Broach from Monckton Chambers. Keith and Steve are experts in the SEND field and have had many successful cases against local councils.
They believe we have strong grounds for a legal challenge, including fundamental errors in the consultation process, a predetermined outcome of the proposal, breaching public sector equality duty, and consultations that have been unfair and unlawful.
Our solicitor, Keith Lomax, says:
‘The challenge against Wiltshire Council is important as children with special needs have particular difficulties, which can isolate them and their families from their community.
Over the years we have seen useful legislation that has imposed duties on councils, such as equality duties. There are specific requirements for the council to engage with parents, children, council, communities, and when a council runs roughshod over us – as we say Wiltshire Council has – then we need to stand up and shout. But protest is not enough. We need legal action, too, and that means legal costs.
If challenges like these are not taken up then councils will go on trampling on people’s rights. It’s important for all children and all communities that bad council decisions are taken to task, wherever they occur.’
Our legal team has contacted Wiltshire Council, asking that they withdraw their Statutory Notice of Proposed Closures. However, Wiltshire Council has so far refused, denied any wrongdoing and continues to miss our deadlines, so we must prepare to take our challenge all the way to a Judicial Review.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of SEND provision in our county, so we must get it right. Yet Wiltshire Council has refused to listen to stakeholders, consult properly or to provide a progressive, robust plan. That is why we have no choice but to take legal action to STOP Wiltshire Council from making a catastrophic mistake that will otherwise damage the lives of children with special needs and their families for generations to come.
WHY WE NEED YOU!
We need your help!!! We can’t do this without you. Will you please donate to help us with our legal challenge, so we can set a precedent to keep special schools local? Councils tend to push back against the public, thinking that we won’t have the courage or the capital to take it all the way to court; please help us prove them wrong!! Together we have the power!!
We need to raise £10,000 in the next 30 days. It’s an all or nothing goal! We really don’t want Wiltshire Council to win by default so please help us to hit our target. Thank you!!
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