A NEW school has been described as “an absolute farce” amid a number of complaints from parents and staff.

Dorset Council purchased the former St Mary's School near Shaftesbury for £10 million last year and transformed it into a new hub for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Coombe House School, as it is now known, opened with the promise of “relationship-based, high-quality education” for young people with special needs - but just six weeks after opening, parents claim the school “isn’t fit for purpose”.

It is claimed the school is under-resourced and under-staffed. It has had to close on several occasions and parents say they received a letter last week from Ian Comfort, the chairman of Coombe House, in which he said the school “does not presently have all of the right provision in place to meet your child’s needs.”

A member of staff expressed concerns around the operations of the school, saying: “It fundamentally shouldn’t have opened as early as it did. All the staff have wanted to provide the level of support promised but we just weren’t resourced and we weren’t prepared at the time of opening.”

A number of parents told the Echo that the school has been repeatedly closed on short notice and some children were now only in two days a week - despite requiring a minimum of 25 hours teaching a week.

One parent said: “There’s been no support, whatsoever, nothing. There’s been next to no communication and we spend each day waiting for a text saying whether or not our kid can go to school.

"It’s hard to explain to him why he’s only going in twice a week and he keeps asking if it’s because he’s been naughty.”

Dorset Council bought the site to meet the growing need for high-quality special education provision.

Parents said the reality of the service delivered falls a far cry short from what they were promised.

One parent said: “We thought it was the best thing since sliced bread: and then it opened. The staff are trying their best, they clearly are, but they are being let down by everything around them: it’s a diabolical situation and it’s really hard to see where they go from here.”

In response, Cllr Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Children, Education, Skills & Early Help said: “During the past few weeks, we have worked with a dynamic and changing situation at Coombe House School. The school closed for a period of a week and since that time most children on roll have been in school for some set days each week, but none full time, and some have not been considered by the school to be ready or able to return.

“We have reviewed the Education, Health and Care Plans for a small number of children, to consider if Coombe House can meet their needs at this time. As a result, their families have been written to suggesting we look at a suitable education offer elsewhere. All these families have a single point of contact at Dorset Council, and I am confident they are being kept informed as to why we feel we need to make these changes.

“Starting a new special school often has its challenges as children and staff come together. As a result of discussions with the Board an external interim head was appointed by the Chair of the Board.

“Dorset Council has been providing day-to-day support to the staff, children and the Board. That work continues and involves other members of our special school system. A key part of that has been secured with the agreement of Sean Kretz, the Head Teacher of Westfield School, to step into Coombe House full time in the short term and support the teaching staff prepare for September.

“Children and young people are at the heart of our decision making and we must make sure the school can offer the first-class education that we know we can provide them by supporting the Board, the staff and our families. There is not an overnight solution to this, it will take a bit more time than we had envisaged but we are confident that it is going in the right direction.”