Anger over plans to axe study centre

Chris Hill Education chiefs have recommended the closure of a popular outdoor study centre in Wells to allow investment in a more “financially viable” venue in Holt.

Chris Hill

Education chiefs have recommended the closure of a popular outdoor study centre in Wells to allow investment in a more “financially viable” venue in Holt.

The future of the field studies centre on Polka Road, and a similar one at Holt Hall, was thrown into doubt last month when Norfolk County Council agreed to remove �250,000 of funding.

The implication of those cuts will be discussed at a meeting of the children's services overview and scrutiny panel at County Hall this afternoon.

But a report by director of children's services Lisa Christensen, published in advance of the meeting, recommends Wells should be closed at the end of the summer, with its pupils transferred to Holt.

The report says both centres had suffered a “significant reduction” in demand as schools increasingly offered environmental learning at their own locations. But it says Holt Hall “has a greater potential to become financially viable in the future”, with accommodation for 60 children - twice that of Wells.

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The report says an investment of �383,000 would be needed to ensure the Holt Hall building was fit to host more outdoor and residential classes.

To make that investment viable, it suggests residential courses should be focused on Holt Hall, as the number of Norfolk pupils visiting there had only fallen by 6pc compared to 12pc at Wells.

“To achieve the above, it will be necessary to cease all field study centre operations at Wells,” it says. “The centre would not be financially viable even if it operates close to capacity, which it is currently not doing (only 48pc on 08/09 figures).”

The recommendation has angered townspeople in Wells and teachers from surrounding schools who use the threatened centre.

Christopher Allen, headteacher at West Raynham and Sculthorpe Primary Schools, wrote to Wells county councillor Dr Marie Strong expressing his “deep concern” at the planned closure.

“This centre is a superb resource and I believe that closure will have a detrimental effect on the local community as well as the learning opportunities it provides for many children who visit it,” he said.

“I feel the fact that a residential offers so many personal and social skills and learning opportunities is forgotten when decisions to closure such facilities are made.”

Shelagh Hutson, Norfolk's cabinet member for children's services, said: “This is not a proposal we have made lightly and the recommendation comes with a heavy heart. However, this is the only realistic option if we are to ensure residential opportunities can continue for Norfolk's children.”

If the proposals are agreed, the report says Holt Hall could be used for at least another two years while a full evaluation of the centre was undertaken and alternative uses explored for the Wells site.

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