PLANS for a controversial new £20m special school for children with special educational needs have been approved by Wiltshire Council.

The decision will see Larkrise school in Trowbridge and St Nicholas school in Chippenham close in 2023 and a centre of excellence built on the site where Rowdeford school is currently in the village of Rowde, near Devizes.

The cabinet discussed a plan that would see a new state of the art school facility created from £20m of funding.

Protestors gathered outside County Hall this morning and sat in the council chambers to hear a proposal on the centre of excellence on Rowde and cabinet discussion.

Speaking to the council, cabinet member for Children, Laura Mayes, said: “This will be a series of small facilities on a fantastic site in the heart of the community, this will not be a super school. All mainstream schools need the help of a special provision to keep the 3,500 children with special educational needs in these mainstream schools. This will give us the opportunity to become a national leader for special educational needs. If we do nothing we would be failing in our duty to ensure there are enough places for children with special educational needs. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”

“We know that this decision will change many people’s journey times. Children are already travelling all over the county, Wiltshire is a large county and we realise some people’s journey times will increase. However only 20 per cent of children are currently educated where they life. The vast majority are already traveling, so to have one in a location that gives the best opportunity for most families is right.

“We will absolutely ensure that each child has its own personalised travel plan, they will be efficient and as streamlined as they possibly can.”

Petitions created by staff and parents from Rowdeford in Rowde and Larkrise in Trowbridge attracted 8300 and 3,311 signatures, all bidding to keep the schools open as they are.

Phil Cook, head teacher of Larkrise said: “A passion for social inclusion drives our school, empowering children to be safe, happy in their own community. Last year we carried out 1300 off site visits, that boosted social and physical skills. This cannot be achieved in just a school setting.”

Melissa Loveday has a child who attends St Nicholas and added: “These schools are valued, and their own communities recognise the importance of inclusion and easy-access to education for SEND pupils. The super-school idea has many flaws, not least taking my own cheeky, happy and adventurous little boy away from the community and school he loves and who love him.”

Linda Bell started a petition to save Larkrise school said: “Has anyone on the cabinet taken the time to experience what children have to go through to travel to school? The stress that this will cause them with additional travel time means they will be tired by the time they arrive.

“It is discrimination, as there are plans for three new mainstream schools to be built. You are putting land and money over education and it is a disgrace.”

Cllr Jon Hubbard, chair of panel that scrutinised the proposal described it as one of the toughest roles he had faced and said: “What we need to see is a growth and expansion into our resource hubs in our communities across the county. We need to educate people in the communities they live and not put them on a bus and ship them somewhere.”

The decision was unanimous.

The final decision on the future of the schools will be made in March.