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Agenda item

Special School Provision in Wiltshire

 Report by Terrence Herbert, Corporate Director

Minutes:

Councillor Laura Mayes presented the report which: provided an update on the work done, and being undertaken to secure the future of special school provision in Wiltshire; sought to confirm the next steps in relation to setting out parameters for development, securing capital funding and progressing change; and sought to confirm authority for preliminary consultation on the future pattern of Wiltshire special schools in the context of its 2015-18 Special Educational Needs (SEN/SEND) Strategy.

 

In making her presentation, Councillor Mayes emphasised that no decision had yet been made regarding a preferred options or options, and that the results of the consultation would be reported to Cabinet in September.

 

At the invitation of the Leader, Councillor Jon Hubbard, in his capacity as Chair of the Children’s Select Committee presented the interim report of the task group. He outlined the extensive work undertaken the group, drawing particular attention to recommendation one and the need for a strategy for SEND across the whole county. He also thanked officer, stakeholders and councillors for their contribution and engagement in the review, and specifically praised the contribution from the two co-opted members John Hawkins and Jen Jones.

 

Further matters highlighted in the course of the presentation and debate included: the progress made in the review since the meeting in November; the vision in Wiltshire for Special Education and the focus on providing the most equitable and best outcome; the additional places required to meet demand; the imbalance between the north and the south of the county; the decisions already made to amend provision and the further options to require continued consultation; the good engagement from schools and parents in the review.

 

Representations were received from the following members of the public.

 

Stuart Hall, from the Wiltshire Parent Carers Council, stated that: thanked the council for their commitment and for the work undertaken to address the shortage; recognised that feedback from parents had been taken into account and welcomed the collaborative approach being developed; expressed  concern over the lack of places for those with needs; stated that specialist provision, within a mainstream setting, is sometimes preferred so that children stay closer to their families and communities; expressed the desire to see more integrated therapies; that investment in the right staff and equipment was important; the desire to involve families in the design of new facilities; expressed disappointed that progress has not been as swift as desired, but welcomed the opportunity to meet the aspirations for the education.

 

Mike Loveridge, Headteacher Rowdeford Schoo, stated that: he was pleased with the progress that has been made and encouraged by many of the proposals; that some recommendations would enable special schools to share best practice with mainstream schools; expressed concern that Rowdeford had been marginalised in the proposed solutions; emphasised the work undertaken to extend the provision and develop its approach for providing an enhanced environment; the importance of good environments on mental health; and emphasised that barriers for development could be overcome.

 

Phil Cook, Headteacher Larkrise School stated: the importance of engaging with the wider community to engage pupils meaningfully with their peers; expressed concern that some of the proposed solutions may not best meet the needs of children; and emphasised the importance of transport issues.

 

Ros Way, Headteacher St Nicholas School, stated: that she was pleased with the amount of evidence that had been collated to develop both the Cabinet and the Scrutiny report; welcome the investment being proposed; emphasised the importance of taking account of social inclusion of children with special needs; the importance to the collaborative approach taken to working with mainstream schools; the importance of continued development of the approach to assessing need; expressed concerns as to the future of post-16 provision and specific facilities such as the hydro-pool.

 

Sarah Busby ,Executive Headteacher Magna Learning Partnership, expressed concern that issues in the south of the county had not been adequately considered.

 

Councillor Steve Oldrieve stated that: he was pleased to see progress and that some concerns have been addressed; expressed concern that having too centralised a provision may mean children would not be a full part of their local communities.

 

Councillor Graham Payne praised the quality of the provision in the county’s schools and emphasised the importance on building upon these foundations to meet the needs of growing towns such as Trowbridge.

 

Councillor Mayes stated, in response to a question from Councillor Payne, that best practice was shared with neighbouring authorities such as Swindon but that there were legal and financial barriers that made more extensive collaboration difficult.

 

Councillor Ruth Hopkinson stated that: she recognised the commitment from the Leader and the cabinet Member; endorsed many of the comments made in the debate; shared some concerns that not all children with additional needs are being assessed quickly enough; emphasised concern that an over-centralisation of facilities including the impact on the cost of transport and the negative impact on children having to undertake excessive travel; and the long-term impact of lack of social inclusion for children schooled far from their home.

 

Councillor Mayes stated, in response to a question from Councillor Hopkinson, that funding was allocated by central government and not a decision made locally; and that state school provision was almost always preferable for the child and a better use of budget. She also emphasised that no decisions have been made and will listen carefully to alternate views made in the consultation.

 

Councillor Mayes stated, in response to a question from Shelley Whitehead - Lockhouse consultancy, that she was aware of the formal complaints raised about the operational decision made, and that officers were responding to this. The Leader asked that the Cabinet Member and officers meet, as appropriate, with representatives to address the issues raised in the complaint.

 

In his personal capacity, Jon Hubbard encouraged all involved in the review to be mindful that some decisions made will inevitably upset some people, and that all should welcome an honest debate about the realistic solutions, emphasising the need to balance the needs of the children and young people and what can be afforded and delivered.

 

Leader thanked Mr Hubbard for his comments. She went on to state that as a mother of a daughter with special needs she recognised this this was a highly emotive issue. She emphasised the need for a collaborative approach to develop the change required.

 

At the end of the debate, the Cabinet;

 

Resolved

 

a)    To thank special schools and stakeholders for their contributions to development work noted in the report.

 

b)   To recognise the achievements noted in the report for the future pattern of Wiltshire special schools in the context of its 2015-18 Special Educational Needs Strategy: namely, what is being developed in the south of the county and what is working well in the north.

 

c)    With a focus on the need to build capacity for cognitive needs in the north, to enter into a pre-statutory consultation phase on the options in the report:

 

i)             to develop a single school for cognitive needs at Chippenham, Trowbridge or Rowde

 

ii)            to develop/continue schools in two of those locations, or

 

iii)          to develop/continue three schools in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Rowdeford with provision moving from the current St Nicholas, Larkrise and Rowdeford sites or not, according to the particular case, and only when new provision is operational;

 

d)   That the results of that consultation be brought back to cabinet to determine any further action, including the possibility of publishing statutory notices for formal consultation on any specific proposal arising from the pre-statutory consultation.

 

Reason for Decision:

 

It is appropriate to recognise successful developments and practice in the whole arena of Wiltshire’s special education and special schools Action is needed to make appropriate provision for pupils with special educational needs and to avoid a long-term budget problem. To ensure due process and transparent consideration of next steps. To secure the right pattern of special schools for the long-term future.

 

Supporting documents:

 

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