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(UK) Dorset: $12M special school now faces problems

July 7, 2022, BBC News: Dorset Council's 'regret' over Coombe House special educational needs school

The problems faced by a new school for children with special educational needs could have been handled better, the council behind it has admitted. SW England Coombe House School, formerly St Mary's School, in Shaftesbury, Dorset, opened in May but closed after a week and then reopened after half-term. Some parents have been told their children will be found education elsewhere. Dorset Council has now expressed "regret" over the situation. The site was bought by the council for £10m [$12M] last year and designed to be the authority's flagship special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) school for children from across the county. But within weeks of its opening chief operating officer Mark Blackman and headteacher Katie Charles had both resigned. The council said Coombe House, which it is the sole shareholder in, would be able to provide schooling for children with autism, emotional and mental health issues. But many parents received letters informing them their children could not be accommodated at the school. One of them, Jane, whose son is 14, said: "It's soul destroying. The phrase 'cannot meet your child's needs' makes me feel really angry. … Andrew Parry, Dorset Council's portfolio holder for children and education, sought to explain the change of circumstances and said it was not "a case of buck passing". "It's a case of ensuring round pegs in round holes, and for some of our children and young people it's become very clear that at this moment in time, for one reason or another, their needs would be better met elsewhere." The council had identified the need for about 500 additional SEND places as part of a £37.5 million [$45.1] investment in education. But Mr Parry acknowledged the school had faced issues. "I think there's always going to be regret when any family experiences a period of difficulty, but what we've had to do is step in and address very, very quickly a dynamic and changing situation," he said. He added the letter parents received was written by the school company board. He said: "With the benefit of hindsight, would I have liked them to take a more personalised approach? Of course I would." In a statement, Dorset Council said starting a new SEND school often had its "challenges" and that there would be no "overnight solution" to the issues at Coombe House. "It will take a bit more time than we had envisaged but we are confident that it is going in the right direction," it added.

There have been issues at Coombe House School since it reopened at Easter, the council said


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