Expansion of programme to build units for SEND pupils in Preston

Posted on - 9th May, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Chorley News, Education, Fylde News, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, Schools, South Ribble News, Wyre News
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston
County Hall in Preston. Pic: Blog Preston

It costs Lancashire County Council twice as much to educate a child with special needs at an independent school as it does one run by the authority itself, cabinet members have been told.

The statistic emerged as they agreed to the latest expansion of County Hall’s programme of building new units for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) within mainstream schools – and increasing the budgets of some of those already approved.

County Cllr Jayne Rear, the portfolio holder for education and skills, gave her colleagues a rough estimate of the bill for the average SEND youngster’s time in the school system.

Read more: Funding boost for breakfast clubs at schools in Preston

“At a maintained [local authority] special school – from reception to the end of year 14 – [the] approximate cost …would total about £420,000.   However, if a child were placed in an independent setting…the average cost of that placement would be at least £840,000,” County Cllr Rear said.

It is now more than four years since the authority started to develop new SEND facilities at local schools – in an attempt both to ensure there were sufficient places and also to bring the proportion of children with special needs who are taught in mainstream settings more in line with the national average.

More recently, the availability of SEND places in areas close to where they are most needed has become a county council priority, because of the ballooning cost of transporting youngsters with special needs to specialist facilities across the county.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed last month, County Hall estimates that it will have spent £8.5m more than it had budgeted for that service during the 2023/24 financial year.

At a recent meeting, cabinet members gave the green light to a new SEND unit being created at Flakefleet Primary School in Fleetwood.  The facility – which will be able to accommodate up to 16 pupils – was backed by an overwhelming majority in a public consultation, which saw 25 of 29 respondents “strongly agree” with the proposal.

Funding has also been approved for the building alterations or adaptations that will be necessary to deliver that unit – as well as for the changes needed at Fleetwood Chaucer Primary School, which had already agreed to the development of its own 16-pupil SEND unit back in 2022.     At the time, it was not expected any physical works would be needed on the latter site, but some alterations have now proved necessary.

The same situation has arisen at Morecambe Bay Primary School, which agreed to the creation of a SEND unit in 2021 and for which additional funding has now been granted.

Additional work has also been given the go-ahead at The Willows, a new satellite site for Thornton Cleveleys Red Marsh School which was approved in November 2021.   The facility, which is already operating, was intended for a maximum of 30 pupils, but further work is needed to enable that capacity to be reached.  Changes are also being made to the main school site.

Meanwhile, initially-budgeted costs for the creation of up to 50 additional SEND places at West Lancashire Community High School have increased as a result of the additional works required to provide a new electricity supply and because of the size of the foundations now known to be needed to accommodate the ground conditions.  Cabinet gave the nod to the extra funding.

The county council also last year approved modular buildings to deliver an additional 20 places at each of two special schools –  The Loyne Specialist School in Lancaster and Mayfield Specialist School in Chorley

However, since then, additional groundwork and an increase in construction costs have also added to the bill for those schemes, with cabinet now granting permission to increase the budgets accordingly.

 All of the budgets approved were discussed in a private part of the cabinet meeting – meaning actual costs and any variations from those originally agreed have not been made public – because of commercial confidentiality.

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