Special school ‘bursting at seams’ due to high demand for spaces
PUBLISHED: 16:00 02 January 2020
The headteacher of a special school in desperate need of expansion is appealing for people to support the proposal to help children with the highest care needs in North Somerset.
Baytree School, near Worle, is 'bursting at the seams' and in desperate need of expansion due to the growing demand for places.
The school needs to expand to enable it to accommodate the increasing number of children with highly complex physical needs and learning difficulties.
Brookfield Walk, in Clevedon, has been identified for the expansion, but the location has provoked a number of objections due to its proximity to homes and the loss of greenbelt land.
More: MP backs campaigners fighting to stop special school's £12million expansion bid
Headteacher Ed Bowen-Roberts is appealing for people to recognise the dire need for additional places to ensure children with the greatest special educational needs are able to attend a school close to home.
He said: "We have got five places in September 2020 and we could fill those twice over.
"The impact is, we've got five young people who haven't got the specialist provision they need, so they're going to be inappropriately placed in mainstream schools or they are going to have to seek out of county provision.
"Funding young people out of county has significant cost implications, which means the high needs block overspend increases and that has to be topped up with money that should be given to mainstream schools."
Baytree School, in Highlands Lane, is the only school in North Somerset designated to provide education to children with severe and profound learning difficulties.
The school building cannot any longer meet the increasing needs of students who need a variety of equipment.
Mr Bowen-Roberts said: "The need for the expansion is great. It was needed last year.
"We have out grown it. We are co-located, so we can't keep expanding around the site.
"We have done extensions, which have helped, but we can't take anymore playground space because we share spaces with a primary school.
"Young people have multiple pieces of postural management equipment including wheelchairs, school chairs and walkers. All the equipment is big and we've got to find somewhere to put it.
"We also don't have enough overhead tracking hoists, we have to use mobile ones."
Hoists in each classroom would enable children to be moved more easily and would reduce the need for manual handling.
The new school will be purpose-built, with overhead hoists in each classroom and bathrooms for every room.
More: Public consultation launched on new school scheme
It would also be based on one-storey, so pupils would not waste time waiting for lifts to access different floors.
Mr Bowen-Roberts said: "Our intake has significantly changed - we have more and more young people with profound physical difficulties and highly complex medical needs that the building just wasn't designed for.
"We are just bursting at the seams.
"If this isn't delivered we'd probably have to freeze our intake for a few years.
"We shouldn't have to send young people out of county. It results in longer journey times and young people also missing out on the local offer.
The school predicts 14 children will need spaces at the school in 2021, but it will only be able to take on three.
The cost of educating children outside the district can be in excess of £100,000 per year.
Mr Bowen-Roberts said: "It's great North Somerset has listened and responded and it is investing a huge amount of time, effort and money into delivering more provision to meet the needs of young people with most complex special educational needs (SEN).
"A number of different sites were looked at with a criteria that included within a community, with transport links, local amenities and at least two hectares long. Of the sites looked at Brookfield Walk appeared the most appropriate.
"It's not the perfect site and we need exceptional circumstances to be able to develop greenbelt and we completely understand the opposition to building on the site.
"I think the need for an extra school places for children and young people with the most complex SEN is pretty exceptional circumstances really.
"Although we understand the opposition, the problem is, if there's a delay the impact is huge on out intake for the next couple of years."
North Somerset Council has held a consultation on the proposal and it is due to make a decision on the planning application next spring.
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