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Votes to close Special Schools

KIRKLEES Council has voted to go ahead with plans to close two special schools - and to replace them with a new school at Newsome.

KIRKLEES Council has voted to go ahead with plans to close two special schools - and to replace them with a new school at Newsome.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris will have to give her backing to the proposed closure of Highfields School in Huddersfield and Turnshaws School at Kirkburton.

A new site for the replacement school, housing about 150 pupils, has been earmarked at Newsome.

Backers of the plan want to build it in the grounds of Newsome High School and Newsome Junior School.

But nearby residents are already campaigning against it, a full council meeting was told.

Newsome Green councillor Andrew Cooper said there were fears about traffic problems and about access.

Six speed bumps are about to be built on nearby roads in a major accident-reduction scheme.

The plans for a shake-up of Kirklees's seven special schools were approved after Liberal Democrats and Tories on the hung council voted together.

Longley School in Huddersfield, Lydgate School at New Mill, Ravenshall School in Dewsbury and Fairfield School, Heckmondwike, will be kept and modernised.

Hartshead Moor School at Cleckheaton would be a third school to shut.

A unit would be created at Lydgate for primary school children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The £14m programme will be paid for by the Government's Private Finance Initiative. A three-month period for formal objections is expected to open in September after yesterday's decision.

About two dozen parents were in the audience for the start of the two-hour debate at the council meeting in Dewsbury Town Hall.

The outcome disappointed Highfields parents, who have mounted a campaign to save their school.

Liberal Democrat councillor John Smithson, cabinet member with responsibility for lifelong learning, said: "We have got special schools that, physically speaking, are in a very poor state.

"We cannot possibly keep them as they are."

A series of public meetings was held to consult with parents about the options.

Clr Smithson said the decision was not an easy one. "It was a highly sensitive issue and we knew the outcome would not please everybody," he admitted.

Councillors also agreed to an investigation into whether the Turnshaws site could be used as a new post-19 centre for former special school pupils.

Clr Robert Light, the Tory group's leader, said there had been a history of under-investment in the district's special schools.

But he said:

"The Government has made it clear we would not get the £14m available to invest in new facilities unless we substantially cut the running costs of these special schools."


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