County bosses have signed off on plans to relocate Atkinson House from its current home in Seghill to the Richard Coates CE Primary School’s vacant former building, in time for the start of the next academic year in September.
The move will see the number of much-needed places the school can offer increase from 80 to 100 and allow it to admit girls as well as boys – creating the first dedicated educational provision for girls in Northumberland with social, emotional and mental health needs.
The proposal was agreed at a Northumberland County Council meeting on Tuesday morning, following a consultation last year.
Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, the council’s portfolio holder for children and young people, said the move represented a £5.5m investment in the disused Ponteland site in Thornhill Road and it was an “inevitable and much-needed step that we need to increase our capacity for children with extra educational needs”.
The cabinet was told that the main concerns over the plans, which attracted 66 objections and 43 notices of support, were around the safeguarding of pupils attending the neighbouring Richard Coates Primary and Little Tinklers Nursery.
In response, the council has proposed that both schools will have their own dedicated areas with no shared playing fields, car park, or outdoor areas, and staggered start and finish times have also been suggested.
Mike Brown, a governor of Richard Coates CE Primary, told the cabinet that any interaction between pupils of the different schools would be “potentially problematic” and that public consultation with Ponteland residents was “almost non-existent”.
However, he welcomed the proposed measures to keep the schools entirely separate from one another.
Council leader Glen Sanderson said the authority had considered the issue “very carefully” and would “continue to take this very seriously and are fully aware of the issues and concerns that have been raised”.
He added: “The underlying and overarching aim is to do the very best we can for the children of the county and that will, and always will, remain our key ambition.”
Paul Sampson, headteacher at Atkinson House, said the new building would provide not only more space to accommodate a growing number of pupils but also the “right environment to meet the needs of the children”.
He told the cabinet that there had been a number of misconceptions about what Atkinson House is, including incorrect beliefs that students had to be sent there by a judge or that every pupil had a police record, and that he wanted a new home where the school could integrate into a community.