Northumberland special school could move in September

The former Richard Coates CE Primary School in Ponteland.The former Richard Coates CE Primary School in Ponteland.
The former Richard Coates CE Primary School in Ponteland.
One of Northumberland’s dedicated special needs schools could complete a move to Ponteland in September after the latest stage of proposals was given the green light.

Bosses at Northumberland County Council held a consultation of the scheme to shift Atkinson House Special School from its current base in Seghill between October and December last year.

According to education chiefs, a new site is needed to cope with an uptick in demand for places for the most vulnerable youngsters, as well as delays to other efforts to boost the number of places.

However, the proposals have proven to be controversial.

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The consultation received 305 responses in total – 96 respondents were in favour of the moving premises, while 209 were against it.

Meanwhile, 150 respondents were in favour of making the school co-educational, with 155 against.

Councillors at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting unanimously voted to go-ahead with the statutory publication of proposals to relocate the school and to change its designation from single sex to co-educational.

They also approved a feasibility and design works to be undertaken at an estimated cost of £250,000.

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Now this has happened, a formal consultation will be launched. The results of which will be heard by cabinet on March 8, where a final decision will be made.

Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “Atkinson House is a school for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. I think autism is a particular speciality.

“Because of the delay in the free school build in Blyth and because of the overall increase in numbers of children with special educational needs, we feel it is needed for further investment in school places.

“This proposal gives us a very quick and easy, compared to building an all new site, opportunity to increase our numbers available and also to make it co-educational.

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“Previously, Atkinson House was just for boys whereas this is for girls and the number of girls with these special needs is increasing.

“This is further investment into education facilities in Ponteland.”

While Atkinson House currently caters for boys only, the proposed move to the site of the former Richard Coates CE Primary School building, on Thornhill Road, would also allow it to begin accepting female pupils.

People in favour of the plans pointed out that there needed to be an expansion of special school provision and that it would cut travel time for pupils.

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They also said that introducing girls to the school would develop students’ social skills.

Meanwhile, objectors raised fears that locating the school near the new primary school and Little Tinkers Nursery would cause safeguarding concerns.

They also raised fears about traffic, congestion and anti-social behaviour, and the suitability of the building.

Sue Aviston, head of school organisation and resources, said the the fears raised were “valid” but slammed a small number of offensive consultation responses.

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She added: “It was expected that the proposals would attract strong views from some quarters and those concerns and questions aired by consultees are fair and understandable.

“However, cabinet should note that this consultation attracted a number of offensive comments towards this vulnerable group of young people in the county although they were submitted by a very small number of consultees these comments were removed from the register because they were so upsetting.”