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(UK) Surrey: $25M for 132 more special needs places

June 7, 2024 Surrey Live: Investment could see 132 new SEND places across three schools created in Surrey

SE England

More places are to be made available for children with special needs in Surrey after the county council approved a £19.4m [$25M] package to support three new school

programmes by 2024/25. Surrey County Council's (SCC) cabinet agreed the spend, as part of its £140.4m [$178M] Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) capital budget, at a meeting on May 4.

Aiming to create 132 student places for state-funded specialist schools, SCC is providing new environments and/or equipment to increase capacity at:

Freemantles School, Woking

Pond Meadow School, Guildford

Philip Southcote School, Addlestone

The three schemes altogether would also support the Council’s delivery of the targeted 5,760 state-maintained specialist places by 2030/31.

Surrey’s state-maintained specialist education estate has increased from around 3,320 in 2019 to around 4,237 places at the end of 2023- leaving 1,523 spaces to be created in the next seven years.

Counting school places

Launching a new satellite school at the former Ripley Church of England Primary site, the Council hopes to “meet the immediate demographic need for additional infant age specialist school places”. The Ofsted-rated Outstanding, state-maintained, Freemantles School will provide 54 additional specialist school places for children aged 4- 7 years from September 2024.

Pond Meadow School is an Ofsted graded ‘Outstanding’ specialist academy for pupils aged 2-19 with severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties. The school is currently over-subscribed, albeit by four places. The school will be redesignated, or repurposed, to meet the needs of autistic pupils with co-occurring severe learning difficulties from academic year 2024/25.

Remodelling, refurbishing and building the new extension on the existing school site will provide space for 51 additional places from September 2024. Overall costs for the project at Pond Meadow School have had a 25% increase from the previous indicative budget of £5.88m to confirmed costs at £7.34m. Additional funding is needed because of the limited interest of contractors creating a restrictive cost competition.

Rebuilding a hydrotherapy pool at Philip Southcote School is also part of SCC’s funding plans, with the approval of the development in 2022. Over half the pupils (approximately 133) have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which specifies routine hydrotherapy. The specialist academy is catered for pupils aged 11-19 years with moderate learning difficulties with needs including hearing impairment and speech, language and communication needs.

Surrey’s investment will provide 27 new additional school places by 2024, as well as replacing worn out spaces for 24 existing places. Overall costs for the project at Philip Southcote School have exceeded the previously approved budget of £10.167m by 9% to confirmed costs at £11.05m. Reasons for the increase include the costs of prolonging the development such as rising inflation and growing class numbers as well as practical considerations for the site.

Counting the pennies

Investing money into SEND school expansions to provide more places is cheaper and “good value for money” for SCC than sending kids to independent schools, according to meeting documents.

Savings of around £30k [$38K] are made for each additional state-funded school place; SCC estimates this is the difference between the average costs of independent school places at £53k [$67K] and equivalent state maintaine school places at c£23k [$29K].

Meeting documents state SCC will borrow the funds to enable work contracts awarded so the special school expansions can be delivered and handed over in August 2024 and Spring 2025.

Although significant financial support has gone into these three special schools, there are 29 state-funded special schools in Surrey. According to SCC’s council website, there are 50 mainstream schools which have SEN units out of 577 Surrey state-schools.


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