More school places coming for children with special needs in Northumberland schools

Pilot schemes to create new spaces for pupils with special needs in two Northumberland schools are set to take place, as the county council battles to keep up with soaring demand.

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th December 2019, 2:48 am
Northumberland County Council

To try to deal with the rising numbers of pupils needing specialist provision, the local authority has already created 82 new spaces at Hexham Priory School (32) and a satellite site of The Dales – Ashdale, in Ashington (50).

The council has also been successful in an application to the Government to be able to open a new 80-space free school for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Now, at its meeting on Monday December 2, the cabinet has approved the establishment of two additionally resourced provisions (ARPs) at Seaton Sluice First School and Astley High School for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and social emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Council leader Peter Jackson said: “This is further evidence of the work we are doing to meet specific needs. The need for special educational provision is growing massively not just here, but nationally.

“The more children that can receive the provision near their families and communities the better.”

This pilot would see the creation of eight places at Seaton Sluice First School and 10 places at Astley High School, with the expectation that pupil admissions will begin in the spring term 2020.

Capital investment of £253,000 is need to fund these places, which will come from an overall grant of £648,000 from the Government to create additional capacity for pupils with SEND.

The report to councillors explained: ‘It has been long recognised that some schools in the Seaton Valley have a higher number of students with SEND on roll, due in part to attracting pupils from neighbouring schools.

‘The Seaton Valley Federation and Seaton Sluice First School have a good record of meeting the additional needs of pupils with SEND, but with additional out-of-area pupils accessing their SEN provision, there is pressure on places.

‘ It is clear, however, that parents of children with SEND have confidence in the two settings that the proposed ARPs are to be based in.’

Council officers will evaluate the pilot projects and look at providing further ARPs elsewhere in the county.

Coun Mark Swinburn, vice-chairman of the family and children’s committee, which discussed the proposal on Thursday (November 28), said it was really welcome to hear that other schools had put themselves forward for this scheme.

Director of education Dean Jackson agreed, saying that if the pilot were successful, ‘there are three or four places we can go next’.

Meanwhile, the council is decommissioning a number of of unused existing ARP places within the Berwick Partnership.

The authority has previously commissioned 12 places at Berwick Academy for an ARP provision known as the Eden Base, but none of the commissioned places are currently being used.

Berwick Middle School currently has an ARP provision known as The Bridges, but no pupils with SEND are accessing it.

Ending the commissioning and funding of both will result in a £114,000 saving to the pot of education funding known as the high needs block.