The South of Wokingham Parents Action Group (SOW) withdrew its plans to open a free school in March after Cllr David Lee – who is now stepping down as leader of Wokingham Borough Council – assured the public that a school would be open by September 2016.
However, the man set to replace him, Cllr Keith Baker, said he could not guarantee a 2016 opening at present, though promised he would “pull out all the stops” to get the new school, set to be built within the Arborfield Garrison site – which will be vacated by the Ministry of Defence late next year – open on time.
In response, SOW set up a petition on Monday – which already has more than 200 signatures – calling for councillors to honour their pledges, or resign.
Group co-founder Gill Purchase said: “People are considering selling their houses and I’m even looking at home schooling or private school.
“We feel seriously let down, This is our children’s education, we can’t mess around, we can’t wait.” What makes the situation more acute, Ms Purchase says, is the group was in the latter stages of putting in its Free school bid, which they say could have opened as early as 2015, with the former officers’ mess at the garrison site as their preferred site.
She added: “The only reason we stopped our Free school bid was because their guarantee of a school made our bid untenable.
“It’s almost impossible to resurrect the bid to the Department of Education.” Ms Purchase added: “He [Cllr Baker] should be 100% behind his colleagues if they promised it, they should deliver it, especially after it made our bid untenable. We feel conned.” Cllr Baker was elected to be leader of the borough’s ruling Conservative group last Thursday and his appointment as leader of the council is due to be rubber-stamped next week.
He said: “I have only been in the post a few days and I don’t know the background, I haven’t seen the paperwork, but I will be pulling out all the stops to remove any obstacles to building the school within the timeframe.
“It’s very difficult because I don’t know what’s been promised and if it’s wrong I would end up with egg on my face.
“They wouldn’t have given the guarantee if it wasn’t there – the guarantee was given in good faith.” He acknowledged the critical need for a school, adding: “Let me make this absolutely clear: we absolutely need this school and we need it by that date [September 2016].” But he added it was 'unreasonable’ to be asked to give a cast-iron guarantee or resign if it were not delivered on time.
View SOW’s petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/we-need-a-secondary-school-in-the-south-of-2