Closure threat to Wisbech school - students face daily 80 mile round trip to St Neots

Pupils form the Unity Academy in Wisbech on a recent school outing to Sandringham woods. The school

Pupils form the Unity Academy in Wisbech on a recent school outing to Sandringham woods. The school may be closed by the end of the year and pupils sent in taxis instead to St Neots. - Credit: Archant

A school for young people with learning difficulties and behaviour problems in Wisbech could close and instead pupils be forced to travel more than 40 miles to St Neots.

School leaders say it is to make sure all pupils benefit from state of the art facilities.

But they also say the current travel time for senior leaders between the two sites is time consuming and costly.

The Unity School in Algores Way, provides an ‘educational and therapeutic learning package’ for 24 young people.

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, 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.

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“As parents you are relieved that your child is settled at last in a school that understands their needs, then this, we are being let down by the system.”

St.Neots site currently has 46 students and in Wisbech there are 24 pupils aged 11 to 18.

Letters have been sent to parents asking them for their views, but they fear it is a foregone conclusion. The deadline for consultation is February 27.

Jane Lancaster-Adlam, head of school, said in the letter to parents: “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.

“Most members of the senior leadership and middle leadership team are based at St Neots.

“The travel time between the two sites is both 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.”

Ms Lancaster-Adlam added: “Historically, Trinity social, emotional and mental health provision in Cambridgeshire was delivered across three sites and run by Cambridgeshire County Council until July 2016, when provision transferred to TBAP Multi Academy Trust.

“Provision was delivered from three small bases in Foxton, Hartford and Wisbech. None of the sites was fit for purpose, and a new school building was prepared at St Neots.

“At the time of transfer, it was agreed that the Wisbech site would remain open.

“The Wisbech site is based on a light industrial estate on the edge of the town, in a single storey unit. Facilities are basic (there is no science lab or indoor sports facilities). Almost all learners are transported via taxis to the base.”

In January 2017 Hartford and Foxton were closed and a new Unity site opened at St Neots offering places for up to 100 learners, with state of the art facilities.

“TBAP Unity now receives a high number of requests for places from neighbouring local authorities and has established an excellent reputation for high quality provision for learners. Currently placements are made by Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire,” Ms Lancaster-Adlam said.

MP Steve Barclay and the county council have been asked for a response.