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Agenda item

Consideration of Proposals for the Development of Special Schools for Children and Young People with complex SEND/Severe learning Difficulties

    Report by Corporate Director Terence Herbert

Minutes:

Cllr Laura Mayes thanked members of the public that had taken the time to attend the meeting and responded to the consultation on the proposals for Special Schools. The Cabinet member gave a presentation which set out proposals for special schools and advised that surgeries would be available to families affected by the decision to meet with the Council and discuss how the plans would affect them. Cllr Mayes explained the proposal was to invest £20 million in a purposed built Centre of Excellence at Rowde, to accompany provision at Exeter House in Salisbury. The Special Schools Larkrise and St Nicholas would stay open until the new school is built in 2023, with staff and pupils transferring to the new Centre of Excellence. The changes were necessary due to increased demand for specialist SEND provision, increased pupil population as a result of Army Rebasing and additional statutory responsibilities on the local authority. In total an additional 120 school places were needed for specialist SEND provision, and this was to be met by the expanded centre in Rowde.

 

The Cabinet member explained there was overcrowding in the current schools and the best option was to expand the school site at Rowde.  Cllr Mayes highlighted the investment was an opportunity to improve the quality of education for those in a Special School setting, as well as improving opportunities for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. The councillor outlined that Rowde was the ideal site for expansion due to its location and excellent community links. The councillor was confident an expanded site in Rowde would give the best opportunity for travel times to the majority of pupils and families. It was explained the expanded site would keep its small, safe setting by separate small learning areas on the site, landscaped to maintain a ‘countryside’ feel and additional therapy facilities would also be available at the school.  The presentation was concluded by the reading of letter from a parent which expressed support for the proposal. Finally, the councillor informed the meeting, the next step for proposals was to engage in statutory consultation and to bring the matter for final decision by Cabinet in March 2019, families would also be offered a personal travel plan to support the transition to a new school.

 

The Leader invited statements and questions as detailed below:

 

Mike Loveridge (Head of Rowdeford School), thanked stakeholders for showing support for the school and spoke in support of the school’s education provision and outdoor learning approach. The Head spoke in support of the expansion of the school and stated he would work with Wiltshire Council to support the success of the school.

 

The Vice Chair of Governors (Rowdeford School), also spoke highly of the school.

 

June Flemming-Simms spoke on behalf of parents with pupils at Larkrise School who wanted the school retained in the town, and expressed concern over the impact of increased school travel time on SEND children.

 

Phil Cook (Head of Larkrise School) spoke about Larkrise’s work to form links with the local community and nearby mainstream schools, Mr Cook felt the new proposals would not continue this approach. It was argued the Children’s Select Committee had recommended a school be available in Devizes, Chippenham and Rowde and considered SEND pupils should be at school within their community.

 

Ros Way (Head of St Nicholas School) argued SEND Pupils should be educated in the area in which they live to allow them to integrate with the community. It was considered the proposals ignored the recommendations of the Children’s Select Committee Task Group.

 

Linda Bell, a petition organiser, made a statement to support the retention of Larkrise School on the grounds of unacceptably increased travel time to Rowdeford school causing distress for SEND pupils.

 

John Hawkins (Rowde Parish Council), spoke in support of the proposal to expand Rowdeford School and advised the Parish Council would help support the integration of the pupils with the local community.

 

Duncan Carter spoke of his experience as a parent of a child with SEND and argued the proposal would endanger the health of his child due to the location of the school in Rowde.

 

Melissa Loveday, a petition organiser, spoke against the proposals, suggesting the increased travel time and distance from hospital would increase health risks for her child. It was also argued the proposal gave parents a lack of choice on where to educate their children, and the location in Rowde would isolate children from the community in which they live. Concern was also expressed that the new school would be too large a setting for SEND pupils to flourish in.

 

Teresa Lilley spoke of her experience as a parent of a child with Special Educational Needs at Larkrise School and of the integration with Paxcroft school, which she argued should continue to support SEND children to be part of mainstream community and learn life skills.

 

Lance Allan, Trowbridge Town Council, spoke against the proposals on the basis that travel time would be increased for most pupils transferring to an expanded Rowdeford School. Mr Allan requested a choice be provided to parents as to the location of their child’s education. More flexibility in when the expanded school was to open, and others to close, was requested.

 

Jo Waltham asked whether the Council could assure parents that no child with SEND would travel longer than the Department for Education guidelines under the new proposal.

 

Jon Hamp, Spingfields Academy, advised the academy would work to support the proposal. 

 

Matt Sambrook, Head at Exeter House, spoke in support of the proposal as a development opportunity for better facilities and access to professionals.

 

Stuart Hall, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council, expressed thanks for inviting the Council to contribute to the consultation. It was highlighted parents felt the current provision did not meet all the needs of their children. Parents also expressed concern about long travel distance times. WPCC asked that if the proposal was agreed, that families be supported to transition into the new school. WPCC concluded that current Special schools were at capacity and action needed to be taken.

 

Cllr Hubbard spoke in his capacity as Chair of the SEND School Provision Task Group and thanked the officers, headteachers, parents, young people and Governors for their involvement in the process. The councillor explained the Task Group initially wanted two sites for specialist school provisions. The Task Group had challenged the location and the travel time for pupils attending Rowdeford School, and the councillor gave examples of how the school had detailed that it could support travel arrangements in-house. Ultimately the Task Group requested an investment into resource hubs in mainstream schools across the county so that the first opportunity for young people was to be educated in these local environments. It was highlighted that resource hubs for SEND pupils were not available for secondary schools in Wiltshire and this should be a requirement.

 

Cllr Oldrieve spoke against the proposal, arguing the Cabinet had previously discussed that expanding Rowdeford School was not an option. It was requested that any consultation responses received since the initial Cabinet report in May 2018 be released.

 

The Leader advised that in May 2018 the Cabinet had agreed to consider 3 possible options for specialist school provision. It was confirmed that consultation responses would be available for public inspection.

 

Cllr Thorn spoke of his experience meeting with parents at St Nicholas’ School. The councillor was pleased to hear parents would be involved in designing the new proposals and in accessing surgeries. The Councillor requested receipt from the sale of the two sites Larkrise and St Nicholas be ringfenced for SEND pupils.

 

Cllr Payne spoke against the proposals and requested assurance that the number of students receiving education privately out of county would reduce.

 

Cllr Simon Jacobs advised the Devizes community would welcome the new pupils at Rowdeford School into the community. 

 

Cllr Ernie Clark spoke against the proposal and argued it ignored the views that stakeholders had expressed in the consultation period.

 

Cllr Sheppard spoke about how seriously the Task Group had considered the proposals and evidence to support them.

 

Cllr Peter Fuller encouraged the Cabinet to consider all representations received. The councillor spoke in support of an expanded site at Rowdeford, however felt the other two schools should also be retained.

Cllr Alan Hill defended the impartiality of officers and their dedication to constructing evidence-led proposals.

 

Baroness Scott spoke of her experience as the parent of a disabled child and her desire for excellent education provision, therapy opportunities, and medical support in Special Schools. The Leader explained she was confident this proposal was the best opportunity for the pupils in the county.

 

Cllr Clewer recognised the concern of the parents, however highlighted the current sites were too small to accommodate the services parents required for their children. 

 

Cllr Mayes thanked all parents and stakeholders who had contributed to the discussion in writing and at the meeting, and understood the uncertainty expressed. However, the Cabinet Member went on to highlight specialist school provision needed to change due to the overcrowding in schools. It was noted that 80% of SEND children were already education in a different town due to Wiltshire being a large rural county. The Cabinet member supported resource bases in every community and confirmed the plan was to have full time medical staff at the new school. In response to public statements, the Cabinet member responded that parents of children already at Rowdeford School felt their children were integrated in the community. The Cabinet member agreed with comments raised that post-16 provision was important. Finally it was confirmed that the new school could have a dedicated officer responsible for organising pupil transport, and existing staff from Larkrise and St Nicholas would be offered positions at Rowdeford School.

 

Resolved:

 

a) To approve consultation on the establishment of a new special school with buildings using the existing Rowdeford site and a new build adjacent;

 

b) To approve the issue of a subsequent statutory notice of a proposal to discontinue St Nicholas, Larkrise and Rowdeford Special Schools with effect from 31st August 2023 at the latest. The notice also to refer to the opening of a new special school from 1st September 2023;

 

c) To note that on the approval of a statutory notice there will be a four week statutory period for representations on the closure proposals and that a final decision by Cabinet will be required.  It is anticipated that this decision will come to Cabinet in March 2019;

 

d) To approve a parallel non-statutory consultation on a proposed specification for the new provision, so that the Council can undertake the process of identifying a preferred provider to be recommended to the Secretary of State;

 

e) To note and support the proposal for a parallel programmes to create a cross county approach to Post 16 special education, including provision in Chippenham and Trowbridge;

 

f) To note and support the proposal for a parallel programme to develop the outreach provision from Exeter House, Salisbury.

 

Reason for decision:

Wiltshire Council has a statutory duty to secure sufficient school places and quality provision for all pupils with special education needs (SEND) and to ensure that these places and provision provide both high quality support, education and value for money. The resolutions outlined above will enable the Council to meet this duty.

Supporting documents:

 

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