£20m in ex­tra school places for spe­cial needs

RE­SPONSE TO RISING DE­MAND AND SPIKE IN PUPIL EX­CLU­SIONS

Manchester Evening News - - NEWS - By JENNIFER WIL­LIAMS

MANCH­ESTER coun­cil is to spend more than £20m pro­vid­ing ex­tra school places for chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs and be­havioural prob­lems to deal with a rise in de­mand.

A re­port go­ing be­fore coun­cil­lors next week re­veals a short­age of pro­vi­sion in the city for both groups of pupils - mean­ing the town hall is now look­ing both to ex­pand and re­fur­bish ex­ist­ing schools and open new ones.

It says pro­vi­sion for chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs (SEN) is now ‘reach­ing ca­pac­ity,’ de­spite the coun­cil hav­ing al­ready com­mis­sioned an ex­tra 150 places over the past few years, in­clud­ing a new school - Piper Hill - due to open in Higher Black­ley this Septem­ber.

Over­all pupil num­bers in the city have been steadily rising for sev­eral years - up by an­other 2,338 in Jan­uary - and that has in­cluded a rise in youngsters with spe­cial needs such as autism and se­vere learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment is also re­view­ing its na­tional ap­proach to ‘al­ter­na­tive pro­vi­sion’ for chil­dren who can­not re­ceive main­stream tuition for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, of­ten be­cause they have been ex­cluded from school.

In Feb­ru­ary the M.E.N. re­ported a 40pc an­nual rise in the num­bers of chil­dren be­ing ex­pelled from the city’s sec­on­daries, prompt­ing con­cerns from coun­cil­lors and the city’s MP, Lucy Pow­ell.

Of­ten those chil­dren will then be taught in ‘pupil re­fer­ral units,’ of which Manch­ester has two.

But the re­port says that these, as with its SEN pro­vi­sion, are now get­ting full - so it will be bid­ding to gov­ern­ment for some new free schools to up ca­pac­ity.

Even so, it says that may not be suc­cess­ful, or enough.

As a re­sult it plans to use half of a £48m gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion grant pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment - known as a ‘ba­sic need grant’ - to in­crease both SEN and pupil re­fer­ral unit (PRU) places.

It says it can af­ford to do so be­cause enough new main­stream places are now in the pipe­line to meet de­mand until 2021, in­clud­ing nine new or ex­panded pri­maries and five new or ex­panded sec­on­daries.

“It is proposed that around £20m of the 2019/20 ba­sic need grant is used to sup­port the nec­es­sary works to the SEND and al­ter­na­tive pro­vi­sion es­tate, ei­ther through ex­pan­sions, re­fur­bish­ments or new builds,” it says, not­ing that it will need to clar­ify with the gov­ern­ment whether or not this is ac­tu­ally al­lowed.

The other half of the grant will be kept back, it says, to pay for any other school ex­pan­sions it may need in the com­ing years.

Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a na­tional review of ‘al­ter­na­tive pro­vi­sion’ - gen­er­ally pupil re­fer­ral units that cater largely for ex­cluded chil­dren - in March.

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