£20m in extra school places for special needs
RESPONSE TO RISING DEMAND AND SPIKE IN PUPIL EXCLUSIONS
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.