Wokingham Borough Council’s decision making executive agreed plans last week (29 September) to apply for funding for two new schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
There is an increasing number of children with educational, health and care plans (EHCP) in the borough, and with not enough local provision, they are having to spend additional time travelling to schools outside of the borough.
Increasing number of children with SEND
Just under 1,500 children in the borough had an EHCP in January this year, equating to 2.5 per cent of the school aged population, with projections that this could rise by 60 per cent to 2,400 EHCPs by 2025.
Currently, the borough has two SEND schools, Addington in Woodley and Chiltern Way Academy in Wokingham, with Oak Tree in Winnersh due to open September 2023. Currently around 40 per cent of those with an EHCP need to be in a specialist SEND school or specialist provision within a school, meaning that a lot of children are being sent out of borough for their schooling.
Bridging the funding gap
Alongside improving wellbeing by reducing travel and having local, more accessible schools to attend, two new schools would help towards the funding gap, which is currently showing a £4.3 million deficit in this year’s budget for schooling for children with SEND.
If the grant is approved, funding would come from the Department for Education.
The council is nominating parts of Rooks Nest Farm and Grays Farm as suitable sites for the new schools. If successful, it is anticipated that the schools could be ready for September 2026.
Local access to high quality services
“It is a priority for us to make sure that the most in need of support in the borough get local access to high quality services,” said Councillor Prue Bray, executive member for children’s services.
“The increasing number of children having to spend additional time travelling, just to receive an education that is right for them, is something we need to address.
“The two schools would not only offer children the benefits that come with going to school within their own communities, but the cost savings also mean we would be able to divert funds away from educating children out of borough, such as school transport, and into increasing our offer locally.
"Having more state-funded provision in the borough would also enable us to reduce our dependency on very expensive independent schools, without compromising on quality, although some specialised independent provision will always be required to ensure we can meet the needs of every child.”
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