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Row over ‘damaging’ email from councillor blaming Norwich school for flooding

PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:58 26 February 2020

Falcon Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Falcon Junior School, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Pupils at a Norfolk school hit by a flooding issue which “baffled experts” are yet to return to their classrooms more than a month after the site first shut its doors - as a row emerges over who was to blame for the situation.

John Fisher, NCC cabinet member for childrens services. Photo: Broadland District CouncilJohn Fisher, NCC cabinet member for childrens services. Photo: Broadland District Council

Falcon Junior School was forced to close on Monday, January 20, after internal flooding swept the premises, affecting the Sprowston site's heating and electric systems.

And over a month later, Year 3, 4 and 5 pupils are still being taught at White House Farm School - a 30 minute walk away - as the county council continues to investigate the cause of the damage, which was worsened by a recent storm.

It comes as a row came to light between the head teacher and the county councillor in charge of schools over who was to blame, with the school's management accused of "poor budgeting".

In an email, which was thought to have been sent to a parent in error and subsequently posted on social media, John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services, said: "The issues arise from poor budgeting in the past by the school and thus lack of maintenance plus an accumulation of issues which were not identified by the school."

Edward Savage, the fifth and current headteacher of Falcon Junior School in Sprowston. Picture: Neil DidsburyEdward Savage, the fifth and current headteacher of Falcon Junior School in Sprowston. Picture: Neil Didsbury

READ MORE: Timescale unknown to reopen flood hit school as pupils relocated

Mr Fisher said he had apologised for the email after being provided with information which contradicted his claims.

But in a reply, head teacher Edward Savage asked him to publicly retract his comments, and said he was "extremely concerned by the content of the email and object to it in the strongest possible terms".

He continued: "The information regarding the school is untrue and damages the school's reputation among our community.

"The assumption that the building issues we are facing is down to poor maintenance and budget management on behalf of the school is inaccurate.

"The premises issues have baffled all contractors and experts for the last ten months - therefore a maintenance issue this is not."

And he added that he wrote to Sara Tough, the council's director of children's services, of the issues in March 2019, warning her the building and premises were becoming unfit for purpose, which he called "incredibly worrying".

He added: "I am worried there is a risk that the school could close long term unless urgent action is taken to remedy the substantial premises issues we face."

Mr Savage declined to comment further on the email, but said his priority was "to work with the council to ensure the school can get back up and running as soon as possible."

READ MORE: Flooded school: issues were first known nine months ago

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In a statement, Mr Fisher said: "Since we first became aware of problems last spring we've been working very closely with the head teacher and governors to understand and resolve the issues which have caused the flooding.

"The leadership team at Falcon Junior - and at White House Farm Primary School - have done a fantastic job in reducing the impact on children's education.

"Whilst maintenance is a delegated matter for schools, we fully recognise that the issues at Falcon Junior are beyond the remit of the school alone.

"All matters have been investigated in the recent months and this includes issues relating to regular maintenance and the building works. The head has been issuing weekly updates to keep everyone informed."

He added: "I have been in direct contact with the leadership of the school, and will continue to do so.

"I can also confirm that further information was made available to me which does contradict an email I sent some time ago - and I have apologised for that.

"The school is not responsible for the flooding and we continue to work together to ensure the children can come back to the school site as soon as possible."

READ MORE: Two schools near Norwich shut due to heating and flooding issues

In a letter to parents dated February 13, Mr Savage said the flooding throughout the floor in the main school had continued.

He said: "The hot water system, cold water system and heating have been pressure tested and do not indicate any leaks.

"We are therefore dealing with a very complex problem.

"In addition, the recent storm has also flooded new areas. All ongoing water investigations have not indicated a cause but investigations are continuing, with additional county council resources to support this process."

And in a similar letter, written on the same date, Sebastian Gasse, assistant director of children's services, described the situation as "exceptional circumstances".

He said remedial works had been done including replacing a foul drainage connection, leaking internal rainwater pipes and a leaking waste pipe in a staff toilet.

He also said fears there was a leak in the schools overall heating system or the wider site had been investigating and now discounted.

- Have you been affected by the issues at Falcon Junior School? Please email reporter Jessica.Frank-Keyes@archant.co.uk

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