Concern voiced over school closure

A SPECIAL school in Colchester will be closed before being annexed to another facility 30 miles away in the south of the county.Education chiefs at Essex County Council plan to close The Heath Special School in Stanway, which looks after young people aged between 11 and 16 years old with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties by September 2006, before amalgamating its educational provision with the Ramsden Hall Special School in Billericay.

A SPECIAL school in Colchester will be closed before being annexed to another facility 30 miles away in the south of the county.

Education chiefs at Essex County Council plan to close The Heath Special School in Stanway, which looks after young people aged between 11 and 16 years old with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties by September 2006, before amalgamating its educational provision with the Ramsden Hall Special School in Billericay.

Many of the children at Heath School, which has more than 30 pupils, come from across Essex.

The reason, officials claim, is that Heath School is in a poor state of repair, would need £6 million to bring it up to standard and they have had difficulties appointing a new headteacher.

The move would place Heath Special School directly under the control of the Billericay school meaning it would cease to be a separate school.

The longer term plan is move all teaching currently taking place at The Heath to an expanded and modernised facility at Ramsden Hall.

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A small number of redundancies at The Heath School are possible, according to the county council.

The current proposals have caused concern amongst some of Essex's leading educationalists who have questioned the wisdom of having two schools so far apart run by a single management team.

David Wood, vice chairman of the Association of Special Education Senior Managers in Essex (ASESME) said: “We have a number of concerns that relate to the possible loss of provision for young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in the Colchester area.

“We have sought assurance that concerns relating to the management of the intended provision will be appropriate to the needs of the young people affected.”

Mr Wood added: “These are very important schools and if these young people are failed, the implications are life-long.”

Tracey Chapman, county council cabinet member for children's services, said she agreed with Mr Wood's main points and added: “There is a growing need for this type of provision in the county and that is exactly what we are trying to address.

“The Government needs to give us more money to enable us to help these children more.

“These proposals are all about putting it all together within a fantastic facility so that we can provide the best services for the best possible cost.”

Mrs Chapman confirmed a small number of redundancies were on the cards but said: “We will do our very best to accommodate our staff and make sure they are well taken of.”

Tony Durcan, Labour spokesman for education at the county council, said: “I don't want to make political points when my real agenda is for the children and, on balance, this is positive. We do have concerns but these will be expressed positively.”

Colin Sykes, Liberal Democrat ward member for Stanway, said: “I am more interested in the children concerned and not the mechanisms of where the school facilities are.”

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