Progress made on plans for new free special school in Hastings

The former Helenswood Upper School site
The former Helenswood Upper School site

Plans to bring a new special school to Hastings have taken a step forward. 

On Friday (September 20), East Sussex County Council’s lead member for resources Nick Bennett agreed to transfer ownership of the former Helenswood Upper School to the Department for Education (DfE).

As part of the transfer, the freehold of the land is being sold to the secretary of state for a £1 fee, subject to clawback overage provisions.

The move comes as the first step in plans to open a free special school on the site, which is vacant following the merger of the Ark Academy Trust run secondary schools Helenswood and William Parker. 

The plans were welcomed by Cllr Bennett, who said: “I am very happy with the recommendations. 

“I think this is a good use of the land and I am happy the overage is satisfactory to safeguard our future interests.” 

The decision was welcomed more guardedly, however, by Hastings councillor and Labour group co-leader Godfrey Daniel. 

Cllr Daniel said: “I don’t actually support free schools. I would much rather see a school with someone from education in control and the county council safeguards therein. 

“If that was an option that is what I would support, but I think what you are saying is financially that is not feasible.

“I have supported the merger of the other two schools. It is good to see that we have co-education through the state sector in the county.”

Cllr Daniel also raised concerns about the safety of the vacant site, comparing it to the repeatedly fire-struck (and now demolished) former Mount Denys care home. 

Officers, however, said the site would no longer be the council’s responsibility once transferred to the DfE, so it would be the Government’s role to maintain it safely.

Despite this, Cllr Bennett asked officers to ensure the matter was raised with the DfE and ask it to take care of site security.

The next stage of the proposal is likely to be a planning application for a demolition of the existing site and construction of a new school building.

Once open the school is expected to be known as The Flagship School.