Special school pupils at risk on shabby site

Monday, 13 May 2024 16:56

By Martyn Smith, Local Democracy Reporter

Uncomfortable heat and a leaking roof are just two of the challenges facing staff and children at a rundown Dudley school.

The headteacher of Pens Meadow School says its Ridge Hill site in Wordsley is so out of date and overcrowded that the health of its pupils is at risk.

The school provides education for children with complex and profound learning difficulties including autism, but the shabby site is no longer fit for purpose and a promised replacement cannot come soon enough. Pens Meadow headteacher, Marie Hunter, said:

“The corridors are narrow, there is no storage, we have one outside play area for 70 children, the bathroom facilities are inadequate, the dinner hall is also the assembly hall and is in the centre of the building so is actually a corridor.

“It was built as a junior training centre so it doesn’t have any of the things you would associate with a modern special school.”

Poor ventilation means classrooms heat up fast in the summer but in the winter cold is a risk. The boiler failed last year and a temporary system was set up which has already broken down twice. Mrs Hunter added:

“The heat just builds and builds, we can’t introduce mobile air conditioning units because the rooms aren’t suitable and in the winter it is freezing because it is all single glazed and single skin bricks.

“All our children have communication difficulties, they might like their cardigan on because it keeps them comfortable and won’t understand that it would cool them down to take it off.

“Wheelchair users and less mobile children can’t regulate their own temperatures, if you can’t control the temperature around them that isn’t beneficial for their health.”

The site does not have a catering kitchen so meals are prepared off-site which can present problems. Mrs Hunter added: “We have children who have to have blended food to certain textures, transporting that can alter the texture and that is a choking hazard.”

The site, which was built in the late 60s, has become dilapidated despite the efforts of caretakers including Jason Page who has been in the building trade for 28 years. Mr Page said:

“We are faced with fire risk, leaky roof, asbestos, we are decorating every room where plaster is crumbling off walls which can only be done in holiday times.

“It’s diabolical, a wreck, they have said we have done so many repairs to the roof that there is nothing else to be repaired – it needs a whole new roof.”

Despite strict spending controls to fill a financial black hole, Dudley Council has said it will find £15m to fund a new Pens Meadow site in Pensnett which will replace Ridge Hill.

Mrs Hunter is looking forward to leaving Ridge Hill and says her students and staff deserve state-of-the-art facilities. She said:

“Staff go over and above every day to ensure our children receive the best. If we do that here, think how amazing it will be when we don’t have those barriers to overcome.”

The school already has a site in Pensnett for older students and better conditions can make a big difference. Mrs Hunter added: “When our pupils transition from this site we have evidence of a reduction in challenging behaviour, improvement in curriculum access and happier pupils opening up further opportunities.

“Our children have been deprived of opportunities and facilities for years, they deserve the best so why should they get the worst? If we don’t look after the most vulnerable in society then there is something wrong.”


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