Plans to invest £15m in special educational needs provision in Oxfordshire are unveiled
Plans to create significant new provision for Oxfordshire children with special educational needs (SEND) are to be put before councillors with a £15m investment, set to create 300 new places and involve a major rebuild for Northfield School in Oxford.
The county council has been conducting a wide-ranging review of its special educational needs provision in light of the large increases in the numbers of children with such needs entering the educational system in recent years and the forecast for continued increases in the future.
The rebuild of Northfield School would be accompanied by a new school at Bloxham Grove in North Oxfordshire (due to open in 2020) and at Valley Park, Didcot (target date 2023) as part of a free school application process
Councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Cultural Services will make a final decision with cabinet colleagues on December 18.
She said: “Our simple aim is to invest in and develop a good quality local provision which meets the needs of children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire. We want pupils in the right provision at the right place with a local first approach to ensure children’s needs are at the core of planning.
“We want to reduce the numbers of children who are currently being educated out of the county, with a preference to having enough provision to meet the needs of the majority of children locally. We would like to reduce demand for specialist placements particularly in the independent non-maintained sector. After six years our strategy would be unlocking savings of £7m a year while at the same time delivering better education for pupils.
“These proposed changes are to ensure there is a sufficient supply of places. The school age population is rising and is forecast to continue to do so due to proposed large scale housing growth together with an increase in numbers of children being diagnosed with SEND needs
“We have seen an increase in the requests for Education and Health Care Needs Assessments since 2013 (77 per cent), some of this is a result of the SEND Reform Act of 2014 which increased the age range from 2-19 to 0-25 years.
“While these plans are ambitious and wide-ranging we should stress that they will not deliver changes overnight, there is a great deal of work to do.”
Northfield School has recently seen a £600,000 investment to deal with serious structural issues to the building at the site and will now see a much larger investment of £9.5m to rebuild the school to accommodate circa 100 children.
In addition to the 300 places to be created at three new special schools, 68 places will be created via new resource bases located in mainstream schools.
All new schools will have a resource base included to enable a comprehensive geographical spread of places. These would be at Aureus Primary School, Didcot; Aureus Secondary School, Didcot; Banbury (starting at Longford Park but moving to the new Southern Road Primary school); Gagle Brook Primary School, Bicester; South West Bicester Secondary School; Barton Primary School and the planned West Witney Primary School.
The current programme of special school expansions at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage; Bardwell School in Bicester and John Watson School in Wheatley will also continue. The council would also seek to confirm the potential to relocate and expand accommodation used by the secondary phase of Bishopswood School in Sonning Common.
Councillor Lindsay-Gale added: “Everybody at the council is very much aware that it has been a difficult period for Northfield School and at one stage the council was considering closure. The future of the school would not only be secured if my cabinet colleagues decide to go along with the recommendations of officers at our December 18 cabinet meeting, but would enable the school to expand and become a real focal point for special educational needs throughout Oxfordshire.”
The council is constantly reviewing all SEND provision and will continue to provide a high quality of education for these pupils and have sufficient places to meet their needs.