05:31AM, Thursday 07 June 2012
'It is a business deal – but it's also a once in a lifetime opportunity for Maidenhead'.
Those were the words of Furze Platt Senior School headteacher Tanya White on Friday as she spoke about the vision to move the school to Spencers Farm in North Town by 2015.
Parents were invited to the Furze Platt Road site last week to hear about the ambitious proposal in partnership with Summerleaze.
Sporting and recreational facilities would form part of the new development along with 320 new homes.
The old site in Furze Platt Road has also been earmarked for the potential development of 380 new homes.
In this special report our reporter Nicola Hine speaks to Tanya White and chairman of governors Sue Le Page. She puts forward readers' concerns about the plans and has found out more about the proposal.
The idea that parts of Furze Platt needed rebuilding was first raised during the Labour government's failed Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative, which was scrapped in 2010.
But she said the school had been approached by Mr Prior - who was a governor there until July when minutes document his resignation at a governors' meeting - about the Spencers Farm plans.
"He was on the governing body for some time. So he was also party to understanding what our issues were and he came to us, not immediately after but some time after that [BSF] with a tentative suggestion about 'what if' and 'could this work?', she said.
"The genuine belief of the governors is that Peter Prior has been a significant supporter of this school for many years."
Chairman of governors Sue Le Page added: "He really wants the best for the school, and he has the school at heart. We're incredibly lucky to have someone who has this keen interest."
"We genuinely worked with the best of motives."
Ms White confirmed the plans have been discussed for 'a year at least', but when asked why parents weren't informed sooner, said it was because the school does not know yet whether the council will even consider the proposal for the Borough Local Plan.
This sets out planning priorities for the area for the next 15 years.
"We have wanted to be transparent and we genuinely worked with the best of motives and with the best of intentions. It's only when you've got something that is firm enough to be a possibility that you can start talking about it. If you don't even think it's a realistic possibility there is no point in releasing it because the danger is you raise expectations falsely or you look unprepared," she said.
The vision for Furze Platt was finally revealed to the public on the afternoon of Friday, March 16 - a matter of hours before the council consultation on the Borough Local Plan closed.
When asked why this was, Mrs Le Page claimed it 'wasn't a conscious thing', adding: "It was just there was so much work to do."
"We want to stay Furze Platt Senior School but we haven't had that final discussion."
New buildings are 'incredibly important' to a child's learning, in Ms White's opinion, because of the benefits they can provide.
"This school was built for 400 students and we've got over 1,200 today," she said.
"If you were starting again you would not design a school like this...you would design a school so there were all the benefits of the curriculum being organised in a coherent way."
She has visited four new schools across the country over a two-day period to see what could potentially be created at Spencers Farm.
But could the school still be called Furze Platt if it was no longer in the ward?
"We want to stay Furze Platt Senior School but we haven't had that final discussion," she said.
"It's a win-win, but it depends very much how people are going to look at it."
According to Ms White meetings are being planned with Furze Platt Junior and Infant schools to inform parents of younger children about what could happen if the proposal went ahead.
She said the senior school has sought advice from the local authority over whether 17 extra places per year group at the new school will be enough considering how many family homes could be built nearby.
They have been told this is acceptable, and asked to include the footprint for a new primary school within the Spencers Farm site, which could then be built in the future.
If the proposal fails to be included in the Borough Local Plan - a decision on which is not due until next summer - plan B will see Furze Platt continue to bid for bits of government funding.
A planned £150,000 remodelling of the sixth form block ready for September is still set to go ahead.
Ms White said: "We've got people here at the moment who deserve the best we can give them while they're here."
She added: "It's a win-win, but it depends very much how people are going to look at it."
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