Willow Dene Expansion Proposal

Consultation Summary July 2021

Hargood Road meeting slides

Swingate Lane meeting slides


What is being proposed?

Willow Dene School, part of the Compass Partnership of Schools, currently has official capacity for 257 pupils aged between 2 and 16, with up to 200 primary pupils (including 9 in nursery) based on Swingate Lane and 48 secondary pupils at Oakmere Road. Willow Dene educates pupils with a wide range of special educational needs, including severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorder and physical disability.

It is proposed that Willow Dene School would permanently expand its capacity by providing an additional:

  • 112 primary-phase places on the Swingate Lane site. The expansion would mean that the Swingate Lane site would have capacity for up to 321 pupils. To meet immediate need, 16 of the additional 112 primary-phase places have been provided from Easter 2021 in temporary accommodation at Swingate Lane. The expansion would take effect following building works that would be completed during 2022/23. The places in the new accommodation would then be filled over approximately 5 years on a phased basis as the school grows (it is likely that the school will open a new year group year on year until the school is full in all year groups)
  • 152 secondary-phase places on a site in Hargood Road, Kidbrooke, SE3 8HS (80 places for Y7 to Y11 and 72 Sixth Form places). This site was until recently a primary school, and the site would be fully redeveloped before Willow Dene moved in. These places are anticipated to become available from September 2024 and would be filled over approximately 5 years. Hargood Road would include Sixth Form provision which would require changing the age range of Willow Dene to enable pupils to remain until they are 19.

The expansion would provide an average of 16 extra places in each cohort from Reception to Year 13. The total number of pupils attending Willow Dene on one of the three sites after the expansions are completed would be 521. The special educational designations of Willow Dene would remain, with the expectation that the additional pupils would have autistic spectrum disorder and complex needs.


Why is this being proposed?

Demand for special school places in the Royal Borough of Greenwich is increasing. The number of pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) is projected to be 500 higher in 2025 than it was in 2019. The experience in Royal Greenwich of rising demand is similar to that of many other London boroughs where provision is expanding to meet demand. Within Royal Greenwich, autistic spectrum disorder is identified as the primary need in nearly half of EHCPs, and there are an increasing number of pupils with severe and complex learning needs that may include being non-verbal, lacking basic independence skills, and requiring an exceptionally high level of individual support. The Sixth Form at Willow Dene would provide continuity for those pupils for whom it is appropriate to remain at Willow Dene, adopting a learner centred approach underpinned by a robust curriculum. This curriculum would focus upon the key areas of preparation for adulthood, careers and accredited learning.

As Royal Greenwich and other surrounding boroughs experience increasing pressure for specialist provision for children with autistic spectrum disorder, there are fewer opportunities to place pupils in appropriate settings. Expanding special school provision within the borough enables more children to attend a school that is both local to them and able to meet their needs. Royal Greenwich’s projections suggest a need for approximately 100 additional special school places for pupils with an autistic spectrum disorder diagnosis in the primary-phase over the next five years, and approximately 120 additional secondary-phase places for Y7 to Y11 (further information is provided in a report to the Royal Greenwich Cabinet on 18 November 2020 that is available on the Royal Greenwich website).

Willow Dene is part of The Compass Partnership of Schools, a multi-academy trust, who are working with the Royal Borough of Greenwich to meet the rising demand for special school places. Willow Dene is a popular and successful school, recognised as good by Ofsted and accredited by the National Autistic Society and as a centre of excellence by MOVE. Willow Dene is the only all-through special school in the borough that is able to support both growing primary and secondary demand, and its growth since 2015 has been in partnership with Royal Greenwich in response to rising demand. It also has the appropriate expertise to develop provision to support the rising numbers of pupils with autistic spectrum disorder and complex needs, both within Willow Dene and also through supporting mainstream schools. The Swingate Lane site is the only existing primary-phase special school site in the borough that is capable of providing 112 additional primary phase places; the site also houses Toucan which provides part-time places for 2 year olds with complex needs.

When a special school that is an academy wishes to add more than 20 additional pupil places, change its age range, and expand onto an additional or satellite site it is required to apply to the Department for Education. Consultation about the proposal is required to be undertaken before the application can be submitted. This is the consultation about whether Willow Dene School should expand by an additional 112 primary-phase places at the Swingate Lane site and 152 secondary-phase places at the Hargood Road site including a new Sixth Form.


What are the implications?

If the expansion is approved then:

  • All pupils currently at Swingate Lane would continue at the site until age 11. Pupils would wear the same school uniform; the timings of the school day and the dates of the school year would not change;
  • Willow Dene would continue to be for pupils with the same needs as the school currently supports. Admission to Willow Dene would still require a child to have an EHCP and to have needs that the school can effectively meet in accordance with its admissions statement; admissions would continue to be co-ordinated by the multi-professional panel for Royal Greenwich residents, and would require the school being named on the EHCP by the child’s local authority;
  • Willow Dene would gain a Sixth Form on the Hargood Road site that would, for pupils for whom it is appropriate, provide an opportunity to remain until age 19;
  • The primary phase provision (excluding nursery) at the Swingate Lane site would expand from 200 places to 312 places as the extra accommodation becomes available (321 including nursery);
  • The Hargood Road site would become part of Willow Dene and have capacity for 152 secondary-phase pupils, including 72 sixth form places; and
  • The extra accommodation required for the additional 112 pupils on Swingate Lane and the demolition and rebuilding at the Hargood Road sites would be funded and managed by Royal Greenwich.

There would be no change to the culture and ethos of Willow Dene School. Willow Dene would continue to provide high quality education in accordance with the values of The Compass Partnership of Schools. The culture and ethos would be consistent across the three sites, as it is now over two sites. The school would have a single leadership team, as well as site leadership arrangements, with Ms Harrison as Executive Headteacher. The three sites would have the same term dates and INSET days.

Willow Dene has experience from managing its previous growth, including establishing Oakmere Road, and is working in close partnership with Royal Greenwich to effectively deliver this expansion. The redevelopment of Hargood Road and investment in Swingate Lane would provide brand new facilities that could benefit all Willow Dene learners. The two secondary sites will have specific facilities to meet specific needs and the decision as to which site a child would attend would be agreed by the admissions panel.

Pupils would have opportunities to link across sites, including as part of transition. Teachers and teaching assistants would be site based to support their classes, while the leadership team, specialist practitioners such as therapists and the outdoor learning team, and business support staff would work across all sites. There would be shared events for parents and children as well as whole school continuing professional development for staff.


Are the proposed building designs for Swingate Lane or Hargood Road available?

This consultation is about whether Willow Dene should expand in order to meet Royal Greenwich’s expanding need for special school places. At this stage there are not building designs to share. As building proposals are developed for Swingate Lane and Hargood Road these would need to progress through the normal planning application and consultation processes. It is expected that the current buildings on the Hargood Road site would need to be demolished and replaced to provide sufficient fit for purpose accommodation. The following table sets out the current anticipated timeframes:


Planning application / consultation

On site works

Swingate Lane

Summer / autumn 2021

Spring 2022 to summer 2023

Hargood Road – demolition

Summer / autumn 2021

Winter 2021/22 to spring 2022

Hargood Road – new buildings

Spring / summer 2022

Autumn 2022 to summer 2024


More about Willow Dene

Willow Dene is a confident and successful school. At the centre of our vision is the understanding that ‘exceptional learners need exceptional teachers’ and this drives everything we do. As the result of a passionate and consistent focus on the quality of pedagogy and extended provision, the school is proving to be an innovator of practice and provision locally and nationally. We now support other settings in developing the quality of their own practice and aim to influence national developments in the provision for children with special educational needs.

Our ethos is reflected in our aspirations for our children and their futures. We achieve this through:

● Positive relationships within our school community;

● Knowledge, skills and expertise of our staff team;

● Support for families through collaborative working; and

● The unique and carefully designed facilities that we offer.

The school was judged by Ofsted to be ‘good’ at a short inspection in 2019, with the report stating that there was sufficient evidence for the school to be judged as ‘outstanding’ at its next full inspection.


What happens next?

Responses to this consultation will be considered by Willow Dene School and the Trust. If Trustees wish to proceed with the expansion, an application would be submitted to the Department for Education and a decision would be anticipated by spring 2022.

As outlined above, the necessary building works would be subject to normal planning application and consultation processes.


How to have your say

To have your say please:

The consultation ends on Tuesday 22nd June 2021. Please have your say before then. All responses will be reviewed by Willow Dene and the Compass Partnership of Schools.

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