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(UK) Walsall: Special schools at "full capacity"; dire predictions for years ahead

Feb 18, 2022, Birmingham Live: Walsall facing a shortage of school places for special needs kids


Walsall is facing a huge shortage of school places for children with special needs which has prompted a review of the service. Figures presented to Walsall Council's education overview and scrutiny committee showed hundreds of primary and secondary aged youngsters will be without a school place unless action is taken. Education bosses are now working on a plan to tackle the issue and create space in special schools and specialist provisions. This includes recruiting two head teachers - Cathy Draper of Short Heath Federation and Kate Bargh from North Star Federation - on a part-time secondment basis to support the development of services. Solutions could include special needs children attending mainstream schools or the creation of a new free school in the borough. Statistics showed that a predicted shortfall of 92 primary and 25 secondary for the school year starting in September. Further data showed the shortages will be 81 primary and 106 secondary in 2023/24, 86 and 147 in 2024/25, 125 and 162 in 2025/26 and 149 and 168 in 2026/27. Rob Thomas, head of access, said a number of short and long term options are being looked at to address the issues. He said: "Some of the solutions we have at the moment are discussions with our existing special schools about increasing capacity. "That maybe through additional commissioned numbers in existing accommodation or some remodelling of accommodation to create places. I think one of the key work streams is the hub model regarding how additional places could be found in mainstream schools for some of our EHCP pupils who will be able to educated there rather than in a special school. "The long term strategy does include feasibility studies on the building footprints we have, how we can remodel existing schools and also when we may need additional buildings or ultimately a new provision for the borough." But Councillor Suky Samra it would be difficult for existing schools to take on extra pupils as they were at full capacity at present. Mr Thomas added: "We are talking about a significant capital strategy to expand on existing provision. So that does take into account where the sites have availability to put additional buildings - whether they are modular or permanent expansions - on the site." Concerns were also raised by councillors about staffing levels and ensuring mainstream schools were equipped to cater for youngsters with special needs. Councillor Stacie Elson said: "We've heard a lot about new places and the hub but I haven't seen anything to indicate a change in staffing…. Mayor of Walsall Rose Burley added: "I'm always concerned because there have been instances where children with special needs have been put in schools that do not know how to deal with a child with special needs. I do hope none of that is going to happen. We want places but we want the right placement and not just a 'you will take them' attitude." Sharon Kelly, assistant director for access and achievement, assured members the right level of funding would be in place while children with complex needs would be provided with specialist support and provision.


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