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(UK) Newcastle: Autism increasing; 'pressing need' for new special school

Mar 25, 2022, Chronicle Live: 'Pressing need' to build new special school in Newcastle as rising demand puts pressure on places

NE England There are particular concerns about the rapidly rising number of places needed for children with autism A new special school must be built in Newcastle to cope with rapidly rising demand, an education boss has warned. Councillors heard on Thursday that there is a “real pressing need” for new facilities if Newcastle children with extra needs are going to be educated within the city and are not forced to travel elsewhere. Mark Patton, Newcastle City Council’s assistant director for education and skills, confirmed that local authority bosses are already looking at potential sites where a new school could be housed. However, he warned the council’s overview and scrutiny committee that three to five years would be a “conservative estimate” for the time it would take to open one, meaning that the pressure on special school places in the coming years was “very real”. In a report, Mr Patton said that there are significant pressures both for places in Newcastle’s special schools and specialist places in mainstream schools, particularly for children with autism and with social, emotional, and mental health needs.

The number of pupils in Newcastle identified with special educational needs (SEND) has jumped from 6,262 in 2016/17 to 6,618 in 2020/21.

The city currently has 356 placements for children and young people with autism at the specialist Thomas Bewick School in West Denton and within mainstream schools, while commissioning a further 110 at independent providers at a price of £3.2m[$4.2M] – excluding the cost of home to school transport. Mr Patton warns that the number of pupils with autism has risen steeply in the past two years and forecasts now indicate that the city will need to create an extra 320 to 380 places to keep up with demand.

Thomas Bewick School has grown from having 53 pupils when it opened in 1999 to 274 pupils on the roll at present and it now operates across three sites. The education chief’s report states: “Given the previous growth and current size of Thomas Bewick School, indications are that an additional special school will be required as well as new or enlarged additional resourced provision within mainstream.”

Mr Patton said that the city council had also already increased capacity at Sir Charles Parsons and Trinity Schools and invested in specialist teachers and training to support children with autism in mainstream schools. But he added: “Despite this, we still have a greater demand for places than can be met from current special school provision in the city, and as a result we have become more reliant on independent special schools and providers, particularly for pupils with autism.

“Places in independent Special schools are often more expensive and frequently outside of Newcastle meaning that children have to travel further and therefore do not have the opportunity to mix with peers from their local community. Improving provision for pupils with SEND in mainstream settings has been a priority over the last few years and this will continue.”


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