PARENTS of children with special educational needs have vowed to fight against the council’s plan to shut down three special schools and open a new one in Rowde.

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 Rowde, near Devizes.

Petitions created by staff and parents from Rowdeford and Larkrise attracted 8,300 and 3,311 signatures respectively, all bidding to keep the schools open as they are.

However, the council voted unanimously to approve the centre for excellence proposal.

Melissa Loveday is a parent from St Nicholas School and said: “We are not disheartened, if anything this has given us more fire to fight for our children. I don’t think the council realise that we are well versed in fighting for the voice of our children to be heard.

“The council say they will guarantee the children go out in the community and have their own travel plans but the school will ultimately be run by an academy, and the council will not have control to make sure these things happen.

“What if the relationship breaks down between the school and the parents, what if it does not become a centre of excellence and then it is our only option? We need more schools, not fewer.”

Parent from Larkrise School, Theresa Lilly added: “Our children have a right to go to school in the heart of their own community. What happened to encouraging diversity? I used to feel proud but now I feel disappointed and scared.”

Speaking to the council, Cabinet member for children, Cllr 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. 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 live. The vast majority are already travelling, 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.”

Mike Loveridge, headteacher of Rowdeford School, said he was delighted with the council’s decision and added:“Rowdeford’s values-based ethos and outdoor space must be retained.

“As we move Rowdeford will work tirelessly with Larkrise and St Nicholas and together we will ensure an outstanding facility for current and future students.”

Council leader Baroness Jane Scott said: “I speak from a very personal position, I am a parent of a disabled child. I have been through what you have been through. Sarah is now in her 40s and I have struggled with Local authorities in the past about her education.

“But what I want would be medical attention on site and readily available and this will be provided at the new centre. We will ensure that they are out in their community and there are ways of doing this.

“I feel for the parents of the Trowbridge and Chippenham schools because I remember how much I loved them but I know that support would be better done at a centre of excellence in Wiltshire.”

Concerns about the level of funding were raised by Trowbridge councillor Graham Payne who said the £20m figure would not be enough to fund the project if it went ahead.

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