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Council withdraws decision to close special schools after legal challenge

Wiltshire Council has agreed to withdraw its decision to approve the closure of three special schools and a related notice regarding the opening of a new special school, following legal action from a group of families.

Earlier this month campaign group Keep Special Schools Local was given permission on the majority of its grounds of challenge over the proposed closures of Larkrise, Rowdeford and St Nicholas schools. The case was due to be heard next month.

In a statement the local authority said: “In order to foster good working relationships with families, prevent further delay and to conserve public money and cost for both parties, the council has now agreed a new way forward.

“Wiltshire Council will now treat all previous consultation and responses that took place between 9 January 2019 and 1 March 2019 as part of a pre-publication consultation. This means they are treated as part of an initial consultation on what proposals should be published for further consideration.

“This is a process with a number of steps, and the council is re-opening the first stage. The council will reach a decision about the next steps after the end of the extended consultation period.”

Wiltshire said there would be at least a four-week extension of the pre-publication consultation. “As part of this, all responses, including those advocating options that differ from the proposal to close the three schools and open a single school in Rowdeford, will be fully considered.”

Consultation responses already provided to the council will be automatically considered as pre-publication consultation, and do not need to be resubmitted.

The council said a new decision on the steps to be taken should then be made by its cabinet this summer. “A summer decision will mean that the timetable for future SEND provision will still be met.”

Terence Herbert, Corporate Director, Children and Education, said: "We all want the very best for our children and young people with SEND. Schools in the north of the county are full and there will need to be an additional 220 spaces by 2023.

“We want to work with families and staff to find a solution that both meets the need for additional places, improves outcomes for children and young people with special needs and disabilities who are educated in our mainstream, as well as special schools.

“To achieve this, we will carry out further consultation and work with all our families so we can focus on the important job of providing all our pupils with the best education and support."

Watkins Solicitors, the claimants’ law firm, had instructed Ian Wise QC and Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers and Tom Tabori of 39 Essex Chambers.

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