Council bids to build school for pupils with special educational needs

PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 October 2018

North Somerset Council wants to build a free school in Churchill.

North Somerset Council wants to build a free school in Churchill.

Archant

An independent school for children with mental health needs could be built in a North Somerset village after the local authority launched a bid for funding.

North Somerset Council will prepare a bid to the Government’s Department for Education next week to open a social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) free school on an undisclosed parcel of agricultural land in 
Churchill.

The move comes after education watchdog Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in June raised ‘significant concerns’ over the lack of strategic direction and effectiveness of special education needs and disability (SEND) services in North Somerset.

A subsequent internal review of SEND provision in North Somerset conducted by the council earlier this year revealed 70 pupils travel out of the district to go to SEMH schools, and this is expected to rise over the next decade, unless a school is built.

And North Somerset’s only independent SEMH education provider, Woodspring School in Wick St Lawrence, was slapped with an inadequate rating by Ofsted in June and is set to close.

A decision notice set to be signed by Cllr David Pasley, the authority’s executive member for finance, explains the need for a free school to be built.

It says: “There is an identified lack of provision for pupils with SEMH within North Somerset.

“As we do not have a specialised school, high numbers of pupils travel significant distances to provisions which are not always of the quality the council would wish to commission.

“The council has a statutory duty to ensure that pupils living in North Somerset have access to appropriate education.”

The council declined the Mercury’s request to name the proposed location of the school as it is locked in ‘commercially sensitive’ negotiations with the landowner, but it would be in Churchill.

The decision notice reveals the site is valued at more than £1million, and the council would lease the site to the new school for 125 years in return for a ‘peppercorn rent’ – which is likely to be of nominal expense.

North Somerset hopes to save a significant chunk of cash each year by opening the SEMH school, as it forks out almost half a million pounds a year on transport for children who study outside of the district.

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