Major boost to special needs places in Lancashire's mainstream schools

Six new units for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are set to be created within mainstream primary schools across Lancashire.
A range of plans have been approved for new special needs places across Lancashire - and other proposals are due to go out to informal consultationA range of plans have been approved for new special needs places across Lancashire - and other proposals are due to go out to informal consultation
A range of plans have been approved for new special needs places across Lancashire - and other proposals are due to go out to informal consultation

Informal consultations will also begin into the possibility of opening another four of the facilities, to add to two others which are welcoming their first pupils this term.

The latest expansions have been approved by Lancashire County Council’s cabinet more than 18 months after the authority revealed plans to develop two dozen new SEND units, split equally between the primary and secondary level.

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If the go-ahead is ultimately given for the remaining four primary sites, the authority’s ambition for the younger age range will have been achieved – although it has taken two requests for mainstream schools to submit expressions of interest in order for the desired total to be reached.

However, interest from secondary schools has been more limited – with not a single one initially coming forward after the first call went out from County Hall last year.

While the pace has picked up since then – and one facility, at Ashton Community Science College in Preston, has now also been approved – there are only five others ready to go to the informal consultation stage.

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The plans are part of the county council’s attempt to ensure that there are sufficient SEND places across the county and also to bring the proportion of children with SEND who are taught in special schools more in line with the national average.

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As of January this year, 39.5 percent of Lancashire children with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) attended state-funded special schools – down from 42.8 percent a year earlier, but still almost nine percent higher than the average across England.

The authority aims to create two primary and two secondary SEND mainstream units in each of the combined areas of Lancaster/Morecambe, Fleetwood/Lytham, Accrington/Burnley, Colne/Nelson, Preston/Leyland and Ormskirk/Skelmersdale.

The cabinet decision gives the green light to new primary facilities – which will open as soon as any associated building work is complete – at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, Barden Primary School in Burnley, Walverden Primary School in Nelson, Highfield Community Primary School in Chorley, Seven Stars Primary School in Leyland and Skelmersdale’s Delph Side Community Primary School. All have been the subject of informal consultations.

Most of the primary units will cater for up to 16 pupils with social, communication and interaction needs – except for the Delph Side facility, which will accommodate eight such pupils, and the unit at Seven Stars, which will be for 16 children with general learning difficulties.

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They will join SEND units at St Leonard’s Church of England Primary School in Burnley and Barrowford Primary School in Nelson, which come into operation from this month.

Informal consultations will now also begin into proposals for similar facilities at Heysham’s Mossgate Primary School, Fleetwood Chaucer Community Primary School and St John’s Catholic Primary School and St Francis of Assisi RC Primary School, both in Skelmersdale, with the latter proposed to accommodate eight pupils to mirror the number being admitted at Delph Side Community Primary in the town.

At secondary level, in addition to the facility confirmed for Ashton Community Science College – which will open in September 2022, following the completion of construction work – informal consultations will be carried out into the creation of units at Fleetwood High School, Alder Grange Community and Technology School in Rawtenstall, St Augustine’s Roman Catholic High School in Clitheroe, Colne Primet Academy and Penwortham Girls’ High School.

No expressions of interest have so far been received for a SEND unit at a mainstream secondary school in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.

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A feasibility study will also be carried out into a two-classroom expansion of Thornton Cleveleys Red Marsh School to address a shortfall in the number of places available for children and young people with learning difficulties in the Fleetwood and Lytham St Annes area, which cabinet members were told had arisen largely as a result of families migrating into Lancashire and settling in the that part of the county.

Depending on the outcome of that study, a formal consultation would then be carried out – as the expansion would increase the school roll by more than 10 percent – with the aim being to create the new facilities by the end of the autumn term. Alternatives that could also be considered for the area include adding a modular building on the Red Marsh site or developing so-called “satellite” provision at The Haven, which is co-located with Northfold Community Primary School.

Cabinet members also gave the go-ahead for the county council to consult on the creation of an entirely new free school for SEND pupils at an unspecified location in Lancashire, where places are needed and “the potential for expansion [of] existing schools is not possible”.

Meanwhile, the green light was also given to seeking expressions of interest and conducting feasibility studies into the development of satellite SEND facilities for secondary children with social, emotional and mental health needs in the east of the county, for secondary and primary children with such needs in Preston or the surrounding area and for children with learning difficulties at primary and secondary level in North and South Lancashire.

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That could involve using an existing mainstream school building with surplus places, located in the vicinity of a special school. However, the special school would retain responsibility for the curriculum and staffing of the facility.

Cabinet member for education and skills Jayne Rear told the meeting at which the slew of SEND proposals were passed that satellite units would “give some of the children of special schools the opportunity to be part of the mainstream”.

In a statement after the meeting she added: “Our children’s education is among our highest priorities at Lancashire County Council – and this expansion in our offer will help bridge the gap to ensure that no child is left behind.”

Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali welcomed the SEND places that were approved, but questioned whether the process could not have been bound up with attempts to deal with “the huge shortage [of] and demand [for] mainstream primary places” in areas such as his Nelson East division.

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Director of education and skills Sarah Callaghan said that mainstream place planning had been considered alongside the development of the SEND units, but added that County Cllr Ali’s comments would be taken on board.