Proposals for a new special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) school in Winnersh are set to reach a major milestone next Thursday (24 September) when the council’s executive committee is due to discuss the lease of the Winnersh Farm site to the Department for Education (DfE).
If approval is granted, the 125-year lease would allow the DfE to move forward to prepare detailed designs for consultation with local residents later this year.
The new special free school, which would cater for children and young people of all ages, would provide 150 places for children with autism (ASD) and social emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties from across Wokingham and Reading.
Backed by both Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils in partnership with Brighter Futures for Children, the school would be built and funded by the DfE and managed by the Maiden Erlegh Trust which is already responsible for running several schools locally.
“A new SEND School in the borough would bring huge benefits for young people and their families. Reducing the need to travel long distances out of borough each day, allowing children to benefit from the wider school experience and a high quality education as well as reduce pressure on families who have to work their lives around a much longer school day,” said Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services.
“There would also be wider financial benefits for Wokingham which could see a saving of between £1.5 and £2.2m a year when compared to the cost of providing more expensive out of area places.”
Winnersh Farm was identified for the new SEND school following a search for suitable sites across the area. In addition to having sufficient space for the school facilities and grounds, it is also in an excellent location to serve pupils from both Reading and Wokingham.
Cllr Ashley Pearce, Reading Borough Council’s lead member for education, said: “I am delighted to see this project progress to a point where a lease of the site in nearby Winnersh is now being considered. High quality SEND provision close to home is essential for a child’s education and wellbeing. Alongside other new provision, this new site would provide huge benefits to children and families in Reading. I look forward to further progress being made over the next few months.”
Initial feasibility studies have been carried out to confirm the site could work for the new school and, should the lease be approved, the DfE will proceed with more detailed designs. It is expected these will be brought forward for public consultation later this year with a planning application submitted in early 2021. Subject to planning consent, the new school is expected to open in time for September 2022.
In addition to the new school the council is also proposing, as set out in the draft Local Plan Update, to use some of the remaining site for new homes and improved access off Woodward Close. The existing allotments would be unaffected by either proposal. Any wider proposals will be brought forward for public engagement at the appropriate time.