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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘Urgent’ plan rushed through to build new classrooms by September

Four new classrooms could be built at a school in Slough by as early as September this year – after an ‘emergency’ decision this month.

Slough Borough Council leaders agreed to rush through the new classrooms at Arbour Vale special school on 6 June. It was an urgent decision to make sure there will be enough school spaces for children with special educational needs.

Councillor Puja Bedi (Image: Slough Borough Council)

Cllr Puja Bedi – responsible for schools – said: “Not delivering these places would mean that 38 children would need to be placed in special schools outside of Slough. With a shortage of places in local facilities some might be placed a long way from Slough.”

Council plans say building the new classrooms at Arbour Vale is the ‘best option’ for making sure the children can all get a space at a school in Slough. Arbour Vale was built for 240 pupils – but the council says there are currently more than 340.

Council leaders agreed to spend just over £4 million pounds on building the classrooms along with a new car park both funded by a government grant.

Up to £1.7 million could be spent on the classrooms. And £2.4 million will be spent on the new car park, which will be outside the school gates and already has planning permission.

Plans suggest the children needing special school places were council already known to the council as they are already in Slough primary schools.

However the council says no ‘forward plan’ had been drawn up for them until its children’s services department got new management in March 2023.

Neil Hoskinson, the council director in charge of education, said ‘lessons have been learned’ about planning ahead. He told council leaders: “We started late because we didn’t have the information.”

He suggested a backlog in dealing with education plans for children with special educational needs meant the council didn’t know how many would need a special school place.

Mr Hoskinson added that even more spaces will be needed in coming years. He said the council had ‘some ideas’ about meeting that demand in coming years but ‘the game changer is a new school – that’s what we need.’

In order to get the new classrooms built by September, council leaders agreed not to ask for companies to compete for the construction contract, which is the normal process.

Instead they have awarded the contract directly to a firm called Landsdowne Green SIPS – a firm that specialises in construction using foam insulated wooden panels.

They also said the rest of the council would not get the chance to scrutinise the plans. Council officers say this means the decision carries more risks than usual but that following the usual process could take more than a year longer.

Commissioners who were appointed to oversee the council after it went bankrupt in 2021 said this should only happen in ‘exceptional circumstances.’

They supported the plans but said ‘extra steps’ should be taken to make sure the council has followed regulations and its finances are protected.

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