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September 30, 2022

Wandsworth Council is planning to shut down a primary school to provide more space for children with severe learning difficulties in the borough. The council says that pupils in Wandsworth with special educational needs are being sent to private schools elsewhere in London at a cost of £11 million a year as the borough has run out of places for them.

From September 2020 to now, 84 per cent of these schoolkids had special educational needs.

The authority is now proposing to close Broadwater Primary School so Paddock Special School in Roehampton can expand from September 2024. Paddock’s site on Priory Lane would also be kept as a facility for children with special needs. The project is set to cost up to £20 million.

The council’s children’s committee heard on Wednesday (28 September 28) that children at Broadwater would be moved to other local schools while there are vacancies elsewhere for staff that would lose their jobs if the plans go ahead.

Labour councillor Kate Stock said, “We’ve seen many of our young children with SEND having to travel long distances… attending schools outside of Wandsworth, particularly to more expensive independent schools, and that’s coming at a cost not only financially but also to children and to our local school community.

“So the situation that we’re faced with now is that we’ve had a quickly escalating demand for specialist places and we no longer have sufficient capacity within our special school system so we really have to think differently and act fast in response to the challenges that we have faced.”

She added, “I want to be really clear that the proposal isn’t a reflection on the quality of teaching and learning or the staff and leadership at the school.”

The committee was told Broadwater offers a huge site while Paddock doesn’t have enough outside space. Broadwater has capacity for three to four forms per year group but only has one, according to a council report. Paddock would be able to increase from two forms per year group to three, creating 64 new places and a total of 192 from September 2024.

Officers said the plans would help stop kids with severe learning difficulties going to schools outside the borough. But councillors also said the proposals had devastated and shocked those at Broadwater.

Conservative councillor Matthew Corner said the plans would ‘raise eyebrows’, with parents wondering whether other schools will be closed. He said the council should set expectations on whether more schools will have to close or not.

Councillor Stock said the council is not planning to close any more schools now but that it’s a ‘moving situation’. She said any closures would be a last resort and the council would be transparent and work with schools. The committee approved the plans which must also be endorsed at the next executive meeting on 10 October before moving to a consultation.

The Conservative refused to support the proposal saying, that although they recognised the need for increased SEND provision in the borough, they wanted a guarantee that the existing facilities at Paddock School would be retained for that use.

Cllr George Crivelli, Wandsworth Conservative's education spokesman, said,“We had hoped that the amendment would guarantee that the existing site in Putney is retained by Wandsworth council as an educational facility and that we can bring forward proposals at the earliest
opportunity to use the vacated school site to meet the increased demand for SEND places in the borough. It was unusual that Labour could not commit to this”

Charlotte Lilywhite - Local Democracy Reporter