Double boost for Special Needs Education

Education for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in Somerset received two major boosts this week.

The Department for Education (DfE) has given it’s backing to the County Council’s free school bid for a new special school in South Somerset and the authority’s Cabinet has agreed to appoint a contractor to build the new special school in Bower Lane, Bridgwater.

Both the Bower Lane school and free school will mean more children with SEN can be educated closer to home, avoiding disruption for families and travel costs and expensive independent school placements for the Council.

Councillor Faye Purbrick, Cabinet member for education, said: “This is great news that will have a real positive impact on many families, allowing more children to be educated closer to home.

“But it’s not just about extra places, it’s about having places that give children with SEN the right environment to learn and teachers the right environment in which to teach.

“The progress on Bower Lane is also great news for the local mainstream schools – freeing-up space for them to expand to meet the local need for places”.

The Council’s free school bid, which was jointly developed with Devon County, has been selected by the DfE to proceed to the next stage. The Council will now be looking to generate interest among Multi-Academy Trusts, with a view to one of them being selected by the DfE to be the sponsor trust to run the school.

If the successful, this will mean a new Special School catering for up to 120 children aged 5-16 in South Somerset. At the moment, Somerset’s only similar school is Sky College in Taunton, meaning children in South Somerset have to travel long distances to Taunton, or even further afield.

The 160-space, purpose-built school at Bower Lane will replace the existing school buildings at Elmwood and Penrose and cater for children with the most complex needs, including those with significant mobility difficulties.

Children, parents and teachers have been able to influence the design and the three-wing school will have a warm water pool for physiotherapy, a sports hall and fully accessible classrooms with latest teaching technology. It will also have a café to help post-16 students to develop vocational skills and encourage engagement with parents and the wider community.