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(UK) Sheppey: Special school adds 60 seats; $3.2M expansion due to ASD

Jan 11, 2024, Kent Live: Specialist secondary school to gain 60 places in £2.5m [$3.2M] expansion 

SE England

The Snowfields Academy is part of the Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) and it is hoped the new places will mean pupils from the Isle of Sheppey will be able to receive their education closer to home.

A school catering to pupils with educational needs is expanding to create 60 new places.

Snowfields Academy in Maidstone will create a satellite at the Minster campus of the Oasis Academy on Sheppey, whose closure was announced recently by the Secretary of State.

It means the specialist secondary school, based in Weavering, will increase its number of students from 280 to 340 from September this year. The Kent County Council (KCC) Children, Young People and Education cabinet committee will next week be asked to authorise the allocation of £2,545,000 from its “high needs provision” budget. . . . 

The Snowfields Academy is part of the Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) and it is hoped the new places will mean pupils from the Isle of Sheppey will be able to receive their education closer to home. Sheppey county councillor Andy Booth said he welcomed the closure of the failing Oasis Academy and the two proposed replacements.

He added: “I would totally endorse the proposal as I think there is a demonstrable need for the estate to become larger and take on a more responsible role in the community. Special educational need is now substantial and growing and is reflected by this expansion, so I am definitely in favour of it.”

Cllr Booth accepted the changes in the wake of the Oasis closure will “take a long time to get right” but presents students with greater choice. KCC as the local authority has seen a significant increase in the number of educational health and care plans (EHCPs) for children and young people up to the age of 25 in recent times.

Sheppey county councillor Andy Booth

Documents to go before the committee on January 16 show there has been an increase in EHCPs of 1,197 (6.8%) between January 2022-23 and totals 18,930 across the county. The papers state: “The number of EHCPs have increased each year since 2010.
"Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remains the most common primary need type with 42.7% of children and young people with an EHCP (0-25 years) having ASD identified as their primary need. This is an increase from 41.2% in January 2020.” 

LAT is taking part in the consultation exercise on the Oasis closure and the opening of the new secondaries. As part of LAT’s proposal for the new school on the Minister site, “it is proposed to establish a satellite of Snowfields for up to 60 students in separate bespoke accommodation on the mainstream school site for September 2024”.

However, the satellite may be delayed until September 2025 due to the timings for refurbishment work of the site and LAT’s access to it. Committee papers state: “The 60 place satellite of Snowfields will help to address the numbers of children and young people with an EHCP who require a specialist place, travelling off the Island to access an appropriate education.

“Snowfields (Cranbrook) already takes 17 children from the Isle of Sheppey. More than 160 children…currently travel off the Island for their specialist provision. This is displacing children who are new to the areas where the special schools are sited further afield to access their education.”

Snowfields, which opened in 2020, was recently graded as “outstanding” in all categories by school inspectors from edcation watchdog Ofsted. Fellow Sheppey KCC member Cllr Mike Whiting said: “For too long, there has been no provision on the Island for those with an EHCP requiring a special school, and it was estimated at a recent meeting that 50% of the children at the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey have some sort of special educational need, mental health or behavioural issue.

“To help meet this need, and to meet it locally, I fully support the proposal by the Leigh Academy Trust to expand the Snowfields Special School by establishing a new satellite of Snowfields for 60 pupils on the Isle of Sheppey. Andy Booth advised I totally support and applaud this initiative. Sheppey has an acute need for this type of establishment, in order to help with the growing numbers of children requiring these outlets.”



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