Plan to expand school for special needs pupils backed despite public opposition

New Woodlands School. Pic: Robin Webster

A controversial plan to expand a Lewisham school which specialises in children with special educational needs has been approved despite public opposition because of bad behaviour by both pupils and their parents.

New Woodlands School in Bromley currently takes students aged five to 14 with social, emotional and mental health needs referred from mainstream Lewisham schools. The change will add pupils aged 14 to 16 who are studying for GCSEs.

Lewisham Council proposed the change because of a lack of provision elsewhere in the borough.

At the council’s Mayor and Cabinet Meeting, the Mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock, and councillors backed the proposed expansion – despite only a quarter of responses in a consultation supporting the introduction of older children.

Matthew Henaughan, Lewisham Council’s School Place Planning Service Manager, said: “Local residents aren’t too enamoured with the behaviour of pupils currently and with parents actually.”

Among the responses, one anonymous local resident complained: “When I moved here 20 years ago, it was lovely. Then you put in older children and I was not consulted. Then you made the side of the school into a play area [and] again I wasn’t consulted.

“[The parents’] language and behaviour at times is appalling including hitting the children. They also park in the Disabled Bay in the street. I cannot tell you how angry that makes me. So NO is my definite answer. Leave it alone.”

Another expressed concern for the effect on the neighbourhood: “Increasing the age range and numbers is going to mean that we will be faced with an older range of badly behaved children who are disrespectful and have no regard for people or property.

“It could have an impact on our house prices [bringing] more trouble to the area. These KS4 children will be much more trouble.”

The sole supporter of the expansion said: “The borough is in need of giving parents a choice, when choosing a school for children with SEMH. At the moment, it’s either put them in mainstream environments that many can’t cope with or send them to another borough.

“But I do hope that if this plan to include Key Stage 4 goes though, that the school can broaden their curriculum.”

The school’s June 2017 Ofsted report saw the institution’s overall effectiveness drop from “good” to “requires improvement”, stating that the “quality of education has declined since the previous inspection”.

However, the Ofsted report noted: “Staff know pupils exceptionally well. Leaders do everything they can to help manage pupils’ emotional and physical well-being. Pupils are well cared for. They feel safe in school.”

Two schools specializing in special educational needs and disabilties, Greenvale School and Watergate School, are also being expanded

New Woodlands School said it did not wish to comment.

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