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Increasing capacity at Northumberland’s special needs schools

The Dales Specialist School at Cowpen Road, Blyth.
The Dales Specialist School at Cowpen Road, Blyth.

Northumberland County Council is urgently creating more school places in the face of a huge increase in the number of pupils with special educational needs.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the decision-making cabinet, councillors discussed the outcomes of a consultation on the special educational needs and disability (SEND) strategy and capacity, as well as agreeing some next steps to tackle the pressure on places.

Coun Wayne Daley

Coun Wayne Daley

Between 2013 and 2017, there was a 32 per cent increase in the number of pupils at Northumberland’s eight maintained special schools.

In total, almost 6,500 children – or 14 per cent of the entire school population – are classified as having a special educational need.

Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, said: “There’s no capacity to accommodate additional pupils as a result of this increase. This administration has decided there are some immediate actions we need to take.”

An extra 50 places are to be created at Blyth’s The Dales School, through the creation of a satellite site in Ashington, to be called Ashdale, while an additional 32 places are to be provided at Hexham Priory School by expanding the school building.

Funding had already been earmarked for this, but statutory proposals are now being published so that the additional spaces are there for the start of the next academic year in September.

A more detailed consultation will also now take place to look at options to expand capacity throughout Northumberland.

Councillors were keen for children to be able to be educated as close as possible to their own communities, but there is also a financial implication – in 2017/18, the county council spent £5.15million on pupils being educated outside of the county, an overspend of £1.8million.

As a result of the feedback from parents and schools, the SEND strategy has also been revised. Among the key issues raised were increasing capacity and resources in mainstream schools, staff training, and dealing with referrals/assessments of children in a timely manner.

Council leader Peter Jackson said: “We are taking this very seriously and we are doing something about it.”

Caption: Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service