Written by Wiltshire Parent Carer Council:
As a result of consultation (a pre-statutory consultation was approved by Cabinet and ended on 31st July 2018, this included an online consultation) on the options to expand capacity in special schools for pupils with complex needs presented to Cabinet in May 2018, a report setting out proposals to invest £20million in state of the provision will be presented to Wiltshire Council Cabinet on Tuesday 27th November 2018.
In considering contributions from all stakeholders (including parent carers, children and young people), the proposal will be to recommend an option to provide a special purpose built school with well-equipped small classes on a spacious site, with separate post 16 provision and a commitment to develop centres of excellence for children and young people with SEND across the county. The recommendation is that once the new school opens in approximately 5 years’ time, the existing three special schools in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Rowde will be replaced by the new school.
Additional to this provision, it is also proposed to work in partnership with Somerset Road Education Trust to develop the provision at Exeter House School, Salisbury to become a centre of excellence for the south of the county. The proposal will address the need for an additional 220 SEND places for Wiltshire while providing a number of features including:-
- Specialist integrated facilities, therapies and support which stakeholders voiced during consultation and engagement as particularly important, such as hydrotherapy pools, sensory rooms, physio, open outdoor space, speech and language therapy and family care
- Closer links between SEND schools and neighbouring mainstream schools
- Links with specialist nurseries offering children with special needs a seamless experience from very small to teenage years
This aspiration is not dissimilar to the approach taken in BaNES some years ago which resulted in the amalgamation of three smaller special schools (Royal United Hospital School, Summerfield School, and Lime Grove School) and the building of Three Ways School. Three Ways School is judged an Outstanding school by OfSTED and is popular with many Wiltshire families. The report acknowledges responses to consultation and engagement which includes messages about the importance of quality of staff, supporting young people to develop skills for adult life, the importance of design so that spaces and a school don’t feel too big, Rowde was the preferred location for siting a new school, the need for a wide range of facilities, and the importance of travel.
The WPCC recognises that parents have said that they would like to be involved in the design and planning of any new building, and we have expressed this. Later in the report, there is an explanation of the different options that have been explored including the consideration of different sites within the county, and particular mention has been made to the Ashton Street site which the report says was given particular support from parent carers and governors of Larkrise School (Appendices 5 and 6 of the report explain the considerations of the different sites explored.
The WPCC recognises that this is significant investment that is much needed to meet the ever increasing demands on special school provision in Wiltshire and the proposal seeks to address the contributions from stakeholders such as aspiring to provide integrated therapies within a purpose built environment, create centres of excellence to support neighbouring mainstream schools, develop facilities such as a café and gardens to integrate the community into the school and provide young people with an increased range of transferable skills, and increase capacity so that fewer children have to travel to schools in other authorities or be home educated if that is not their preference.
However, the WPCC also recognises that in aspiring to provide pupils with SEND with the best facilities, the best teaching and the best learning environment where they can thrive, the proposal, will create anxiety for some families and we don’t in any way want to underestimate this.
The WPCC will continue to provide as much information as possible to keep parent carers informed and we are assured by Wiltshire Council, that whatever the Cabinet decision is, there will be many further opportunities to continue to be involved in conversation. Please also see the Q&A document we are maintaining on our website that responds to questions being raised by parent carers: Q&A. You can find more information about the Cabinet meeting and read the full proposal paper HERE.