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(UK) Isle of Wight: Plans to increase places for SPED students


A former school building in East Cowes could be brought back into use as part of a plan to increase school places for children with special educational needs (SEN).

The Isle of Wight Council has announced ambitious plans worth £200,00 which include enlarging St George’s School, a special school for 11 to 19-year-olds with complex learning difficulties, by creating a ‘satellite’ provision at the former Studio School in East Cowes.

Another plan is to double the provision at Greenmount Primary School for autistic children, from 6 places to 12.

Altogether, the authority’s new education access and inclusion director, Naomi Carter said the council is going to increase specialist provision across the Island, with 150 new places created in the next 2 years. St George’s currently has the capacity for 188 pupils at its base on Watergate Road, Newport, but the authority is proposing to increase its admission number to 208.

It means 20 pupils with autism and social, emotional and mental health conditions would be taught in new facilities at the former Studio School in East Cowes.

The Studio School opened in the former East Cowes Primary School building, on Grange Road, in 2014 but only operated for five years, closing in 2019 due to low pupil numbers. The building has been empty ever since.

The schemes aim to reduce the amount the council is spending on placements and packages for those children and young people who are currently being educated outside a school setting.

It is part of the council’s ‘Safety Valve’ agreement with the Department for Education which could clear nearly £12.7 million [$16M] of education spending debt if the council meets financial targets. While it would cost an estimated £230,000  [$294K] for the 2 projects, the council hopes in the long-term it would reduce the cost.

Speaking at a meeting of the children’s education scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday evening, Ms Carter said it was also about bringing children back into the school system and removing inappropriately placed children from mainland schools.

It would be a phased programme of increasing places, she said, as the council cannot ‘carry on’ with the amount it spends on educating the approximately 70 children outside a school setting.

Ms Carter said:

“We need to act quickly. The biggest issue we are going to have is winning the hearts and minds of Island families and parents’ confidence in the system.

“We need to have a different, more therapeutic offer which can meet children’s needs within a different school environment.

“We haven’t got a magic pot of money and we have to be creative with the resources we have but we believe we can do it.”

Steff Gleeson, headteacher, said:

“This is a very exciting development opportunity for St George’s and for the young people on the Isle of Wight.”

Councillor Jonathan Bacon, Cabinet member for children’s services and education, said:

“The lack of sufficient provision in Island schools has resulted in the need for increased placements within the costlier independent non-maintained specialist sector.

“The council is committed to further developing successful provision to meet the growth in need within the special education needs and disability (SEND) sector and help children to have their needs met in their local community.

“This proposed additional SEND provision will manage some of the school place pressures generated by the increase in the number of EHCPs maintained by the local authority and allow placement of additional children for September 2024.”


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