PARENTS campaigning to keep special schools open say they will compromise to work with the council to improve special needs education in the county.

As part of a legal challenge to the consultation that could see St Nicholas' in Chippenham close, parents have submitted evidence to a judge and a judicial review is set to be carried out in March. Parents hope it will put a 'pause' on a cabinet decision that could see the school, and Larkrise in Trowbridge close.

Handing in two petitions signed by thousands of members of the community, parents and governors spoke during Tuesday's (Feb 26) full council meeting.

Speaking during the full council debate sparked by the petitions, Cllr Jon Hubbard said: “It is people’s lives that will be hugely impacted on as a result of whatever choices are made.This is democracy in action. We have in our constitution we will debate this because people in the community have spoken out. It has only happened two or three times. This is hugely emotive and whatever we believe we might know about this subject we must listen to their voices.”

St Nicolas' parent Melissa Loveday said: “For some parents it’s the segregation from their communities that worrys them. Some it is the health risks of being so far away from A and E and some it’s the stress and seizures caused by longer travel times. For me it is all of the above, and stopping the barriers to learning for children who already have difficulty learning.

“Get us parents on board. We are willing to compromise to find something for the majority. We want the council to make a a stronger commitment to working with parents.”

“Councillors seem to be acknowledging that we have specialist knowledge in this area that can really help with the process. I do not know if the cabinet agree but we are working from the bottom up."

Addressing Wiltshire councillors, Larkrise supporter Tony Free said: “You all entered politics because you care and want to make a difference. You aren’t meant to let them pull a string and your hand goes up. Just vote to explore options of enhancing facilities at all three schools. Please hold your heads up and show you care.”

Cllr Laura Mayes, cabinet member for children urged people to get involved with the consultation until it closes on March 1 and committed to work with parents on future SEN provision.

Parents say a variety of options could be created to ensure that future SEN education in the county can meet demand. Ideas include fitting an ambulance station at the school, having duel enrolment with mainstream schools and creating three centres of excellence in which teachers will travel between, instead of children facing longer travel times.

Larkrise supporter Jan Winfield said parents felt encouraged by talks with Wiltshire Commissioners that had taken place in the last two weeks. She added: “We are making a call to compromise in the interests of our children. We like the idea of a centre of excellence but in the middle of the country where children will never go to unless on the school bus is not inclusion. Local schools provide support network for families. With one centralised school this will be lost.Children thrive because they are small low key settings. Children need smaller settings that are calmer.

“Rowde has no train miles from hospital and could pose real risk. would low paid support workers be prepared to travel miles everyday?”

She suggested a two site centre solution, with a primary site in Melksham and secondary in Rowde. She argued Melksham would replicate an urban area with transport and community links and older children might like the idea of progressing to big school in Rowde.

A protest march in Chippenham is due to take place on March 23.

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