VOTE: Get set for £35m ‘learning village’

Major plans are in the pipeline for a £35m ‘learning village’ in Southbourne which will change the face of education in the area.

In plans seen by the Observer, the scheme would involve merging Southbourne Junior School and Southbourne Infant School to form a new all-in-one primary school at the Bourne Community College site.

In addition, the county library in First Avenue and the Age Concern facilities in New Road would be moved to the college site.

The community hub would include other facilities such as a pre-school, a creche, youth wing, adult education facilities, a children and families centre and a conference centre for local businesses.

It would then leave a large area of empty land on the junior and infant school sites, which currently sit side-by-side in New Road.

A timescale for when it could happen is unclear as discussions are in the early stages.

But a meeting has been held between a number of stakeholders who were briefed about the plans being proposed by Bourne Community College.

West Sussex County Council and the Bourne declined to comment about the plans this week.

A £955,000 Special Support Centre, which would be part of the village, is scheduled to open in the 2012 autumn term.

The dedicated centre would provide education for children with special educational needs and has been recommended for approval by the county’s director of children’s services.

The director’s report said the Special Support Centre would provide up to 16 places for pupils aged 11 to 16 with social communication needs and would initially open with eight places.

It has been included in the county’s capital programme for 2011-2012.

The centre is separate from the post-16 facility which Chichester-based campaign group Educational Equality, led by parent Evelyn Ashford, is pushing for.

The director’s report said the number of children in the county being diagnosed with social communication needs was growing.

The proportion of statements of special educational needs for those with conditions on the Autistic Spectrum had risen from 13 per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent last year.

From 2012 there will be a shortfall in places for pupils leaving primary school with social communication needs in the west of the county and there was no existing special support centre in this area.

“This approach is both more conducive to supporting families within their local communities and more cost effective,” said the report.

Consultation about the SSC started last November, with clear demand demonstrated by parents.

Consultation papers were sent to staff, pupils, parents and governors of the school last year, with a public drop-in surgery held at Bourne Community College in November.

“In order to do this WSCC needs to make provision on the Bourne site in a building that is fit for purpose to house the secondary Special Support Centre,” said the report.

“A feasibility study has been undertaken to show the location of the SSC to ensure it fits within the masterplan for the Bourne campus.”

Funding will be available from 2011-2012 to support staff development, planning and preparation for the SSC and adverts for the teacher in charge and other staff will be placed early in the spring term 2012.

The report said: “SSC provision should help to reduce the number of placements in independent and non-maintained schools that can be prohibitively expensive (with some placements for children with the most complex needs costing up to £200,000 per year.”

The plan has been provisionally approved but county councillors have until 5pm today to lodge any comments.