Wisbech school for young people with extra needs cannot merge with St Neots without special permission, warns concerned Cambridgeshire County Council

Unity School in Wisbech, run by TBAP Trust. Cambridgeshire County Council has warned it cannot clos

Unity School in Wisbech, run by TBAP Trust. Cambridgeshire County Council has warned it cannot close without getting special permission from the regional schools commissioner. - Credit: Archant

A Wisbech school for children with extra needs cannot close without getting approval from the regional commissioner, it has emerged, after the Cambridgeshire County Council expressed concerns.

Unity, which supports students with social, emotional and mental health needs, told parents it wants to close its base on an industrial unit on the edge of town and instead send children to its sister base more than 40 miles away in St Neots.

An consultation period closes tomorrow (Tuesday 27).

The trust in charge of Unity, TBAP, said the St Neots unit has better facilities and the merge would save the time and expense of senior leaders travelling between the two schools and would save building maintenance costs.

But a Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: “Council officers are meeting with representatives of the TBAP Unity Academy Trust and the Department of Education to find out more about the proposed plans and set out our concerns over the potential implications for pupils and staff.

“Based on our analysis, the proposed closure of The Unity School in Wisbech would result in longer journey times for a number of students and increased costs for the Council.

“As this is an academy, TBAP will need to seek approval of the regional schools commissioner before making any final decision.”

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The Unity school in Algores Way has 24 young people on its roll from 11 years old to 18 and on its website says it provides an ‘educational and therapeutic learning package.’

But if the plan goes ahead, those pupils will have to travel at least an hour and a half to a new centralised hub in St Neot’s, with 46 students, by the end of this year.

One parent said: “How are children supposed to cope with those long journeys at the start and end of school days? My son is a teenager with a mental age of a toddler, this is all too much.

“My concern is not just for my child but for all parents now and in the future. We need more local provision for them all.”

Letters have been sent to parents asking for their views, but they fear it is a foregone conclusion.

Jane Lancaster-Adlam, head of school, said: “The site at St Neots has capacity to accommodate all learners. The facilities ensure that all learning takes place in well-equipped classrooms, offering a broad range of subjects.

“The travel time between the two sites is costly and time consuming for the senior leadership team.

“Staff incur travel costs and loss of time to the organisation. There is currently a risk that the quality of provision is not matched at both sites, due to both the facilities available and the quality of teaching delivered.

“The proposal will result in a structure that is far more efficient, provide a higher quality of provision for the learners and will reduce both staffing and building/ maintenance costs.”