PARENTS of two children who attend special schools have spoken to the Wiltshire Times about their fears for their lives if the proposal to close St Nicholas’ and Larkrise special schools and build a £20m Centre of Excellence near Devizes in 2023 go ahead.

On Monday campaigners learned they had raised the £10,000 needed for legal fees to challenge the Wiltshire Council proposal.

Mum Konnie Shanker lives with her son Jai, 11, in Market Lavington. Jai has profound complex special needs and attends Larkrise in Trowbridge because of its specialist care. Developmentally, Jai is at an equivalent level of a nine-11-month-old baby.

Before moving to Market Lavington, the family lived in London where Jai went to a special school that had around 100 pupils.

She fears that Wiltshire Council’s Centre for Excellence will create the same problems he experienced at the larger London school, where he spent long periods in just one classroom and did not get the one-to-one care that he now gets in Larkrise.

She said: “The London school only had around 100 pupils but it seemed so much bigger then Larkrise.

“I understand that Wiltshire Council wants to bring children back into the county but I can see the children being more separated because they talk about classroom pods where they will learn.

“When we were in London he didn’t mix as much with other pupils and he remained in his classroom with other children with similar or even more complex and medical needs.

“This meant that he wasn’t getting the dedicated one-to-one care he needed because there were children with more with more complicated needs taking up the teacher’s time.

“When we left I was told we were leaving at a good time because he wasn’t getting the best care.”

Mrs Shanker is considering taking Jai out of the county for his post-16 education because she feels that plans to work with Wiltshire College will not be right for his needs. She said: “I have been told that he might need to go out of county to have boarding care, which I really do not want to happen. The places they are comparing the centre of excellence too are not the same.

“Three Ways in Bath is still small, it has less than 200 pupils so it isn’t the same. I moved out of London to get more space for Jai and now I am seriously considering moving somewhere where he can get the care he needs.

“He will be 15 by the time this happens so I am not even sure if it is worth him going to the new school and all the upheaval of him going there for one year.

“The information about post-16 education seems to be building on what is already there but that is not appropriate for children with complex severe needs like Jai. I do not feel there has been enough information about this, which makes me think maybe the council are not working very hard on it.”

She added: “Unless you are a parent of a child with special needs you do not know what it is like. I think that is what councillors don’t understand is that these children don’t just need help feeding and changing, they need specialist one-to-one care to give them sensory education.”

Not all children receiving help and education at Larkrise special school in Trowbridge have a diagnosed condition, but they still rely on the support of the specialist teachers and support staff working there, and the school’s sensory facilities.

Alexia Davies, seven, cannot talk or walk independently, but the condition which affects her so severely has not yet been formally identified or diagnosed. Her family say her condition has improved since starting first at specialist nursery at Stepping Stones and now at Larkrise.

She is part of the 100,000 Genomes Project, and is taking part in tests to understand her special needs.

Alexia lives with her mum Helena Pinder, dad Charley Davies and brother Ethan, five who attends Fitzmaurice primary school in Bradford on Avon.

Helena has lived in their family home in Bradford on Avon for her whole life and believes that being in her own community is a crucial part of Alexia’s childhood.

“The community does seem to have rallied around the school and it is nice to know that people think that the school should remain.

“Her brother Ethan is five and goes to school in Bradford so having them go to school so far away from each other will really impact on our days.

“When you are a parent of a child with special needs you already feel a bit alienated, so it is a worry if anything else comes up that could make you feel even more alienated and Alexia having to be sent away so far will add to that.

“Before Larkrise she went to Stepping Stones for nursery school and they really started the ball rolling.

“Her confidence has grown since starting school. She used to cover her eyes whenever anyone spoke to her but now she will make eye contact and everybody says hello to her when she walks around the school with the help of staff.

“She has used the hydra pool there and even taken some steps unaided, which shows the work they are doing with her.

“Alexia probably would not notice or mind the bus journey in (to the planned new school in Rowde, near Devizes) but what she wouldn’t realise is that the journey is moving her away from her community.”

The council propose a state of the art facility with £20m of investment that will allow 220 more children with special educational needs to be educated in the county at the proposed site in Rowde.

“I think it looks good on paper but the reality is that Alexia will become a small fish in a big pond and although there will be all the specialist equipment, the demand for it from so many pupils will be too great,” Helena added.