Halton to get free school for pupils with needs
HALTON Council’s cabinet has backed a plan to locate a free school for students with social and mental health needs in the borough in a joint project that would serve St Helens as well as Widnes and Runcorn.
Councillors gave the green light for the local authority to submit an application for the scheme at October’s executive board meeting.
Although the decision means any free school will be situated in Halton, no location has been decided.
The council will be expected to provide a site, either for free or for a low token-gesture rent.
With St Helens being north of the River Mersey, it remains to be seen it the tolls on the Mersey Gateway bridge will make Widnes a more likely location than Runcorn.
The project is intended to plug a gap in suitable school access for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) that has left SEMH pupils being provided with expensive independent education.
It is anticipated that the facility would serve 50 pupils aged 11 to 16.
Minutes published following the executive board meeting said the proposed free school would ‘offer a quality educational experience for fifty pupils with SEMH, as well as catering for a range of other issues including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder’.
A report provided to cabinet members said Halton could half the amount spends on providing independent schooling to SEMH pupils.
It said that the cost of a special free school for 25 students would cost around £650,000, but that figure balloons to £1.35m, plus travel, for independent places.
The move follows the issuing of guidance from the Department For Education in July, calling for councils to establish special schools in their areas and to work with other local authorities to do so.