Funding shortfall to upgrade special needs schools

Education news
Education news

Improving schools for children with special needs has hit a stumbling block – a lack of money.

Three new hubs for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) opened in Brighton and Hove at the start of September. There were six previously.

The eventual plan is to upgrade and extend the buildings once the first phase of setting up the new hubs is completed by the end of July 2020.

Currently £7.5 million is available but estimates for the cost of improvements to two of the schools put the bill closer to £8 million, according to a report going before a Brighton and Hove City Council committee this afternoon (November 12).

Bringing the schools together has saved £700,000 as management, office and premises staff are combined, according to the report to the council’s children, young people and skills committee.

But the council does not appear to have kept details of any job losses relating to the combined hub, it emerged, after it was asked for a breakdown of the savings this week.

The report said: “The overall reorganisation of specialist provision has identified savings of about £700,000 over several years.

“It is important that this is not seen as a cut as the budget is not reducing.

“These savings can be used to increase the direct support available for children.

“Savings of approximately £100,000 have already been achieved through the closure of Patcham House School and this resource has been reinvested in provision across the integrated hubs.”

Building work is needed as the new hubs were formed by combining existing schools.

The new Hill Park School is the western hub formed by combining Hillside School and Downs Park School, both in Foredown Road, Portslade.

First estimates suggested new building and improvement works would cost close to £6 million.

Downs View School covers the east of the city, bringing together Downs View School in Woodingdean and the Cedar Centre in Hollingdean.

The council said: “There is a large building project planned for the Downs View Woodingdean site that will increase the number of pupils on that site.

“Once the extension is complete the intention is for the Cedar Centre site to be vacant of Downs View pupils. Current projection for this is to complete building works by July 2020.”

Both schools are designed to support children and young people with complex learning needs, both severe and moderate from age two to 19.

By bringing the four schools together to form two, the council hopes to provide improved extracurricular activities, an extended day and short breaks for disabled children.

A budget of £90,000 is available for these services.

The third hub is for young people with social, emotional and mental health needs aged between five and 16 with a final site to be decided.

It combines Homewood College, the Brighton and Hove Pupil Referral Unit and the Connected Hub.

Bringing these three together is not as advanced as the east and west hubs.

According to officials, it is hoped that the new schools will improve attendance, reduce the number of children in special schools outside the city and result in better academic results.

The aim is for all three hubs to be judged outstanding by Ofsted.

At its most recent inspection last year, Homewood College in Hollingdean was judged as requiring improvement. The Pupil Referral Unit and Connected Hub were good. Downs View is rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

Sarah Booker-Lewis is the Local Democracy Reporter for Brighton & Hove.