Residents are urged to share their views on plans to increase the number of spaces for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Wokingham Borough, to ensure they are offered places in the right schools, in the right places, and at the right time.
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Wokingham Borough Council is proposing a new and more effective arrangement in which children’s needs are met either in mainstream schools, offering varying levels of support as required, or in specialist schools for those with the most complex needs.
The council has identified key gaps in what it offers locally, which has led to an increase in the number of children needing to travel outside the borough for their education.
This generally isn’t good for anyone as pupils may struggle to participate in activities before and after school, spend more time travelling to and from school, and live further away from their classmates. It is also an inefficient use of limited resources, with one place at an independent school costing the same as two or three places at an independent school.
Four types of schools or settings
The council is proposing four different types of schools or settings for children with SEND, which includes introducing new SEND units for primary and secondary-aged children. These would specialise in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties alongside existing resource bases and special schools.
For most children with SEND, mainstream school remains the best option but for those children who struggle to cope in mainstream classrooms the current options in Wokingham Borough are 'resource bases', which are integrated within mainstream schools and have children spend around 50 per cent of their time in the school and 50 per cent getting specialist support in the resource base. The other options are 'specialist schools' for those who need the highest level of support in a fully adapted environment.
Under the new proposals, resource bases would be re-designed to better meet current needs, new special schools would be opened and new SEND 'designated units' would be introduced for those pupils who need a higher level of support than a resource base but would benefit from time in a mainstream school.
The council recently announced its success in a bid for two new specialist schools and around £20 million investment from the government for SEND services on 16 March.
The two new schools, which would have about 100 places each, would join Addington School in Woodley and Chiltern Way Academy in Wokingham town, as well as Oak Tree School in Winnersh which is due to open in September 2023, in offering tailored and specialist education and support to children with SEND.
Addington School is also developing a satellite at the former Farley Hill village school to provide 40 additional places for pupils in early years and reception. This is scheduled to open with 14 pupils in Autumn 2023 and will build to full capacity over the following year or two.
The consultation is asking for feedback on the principle of the council’s proposals and whether they are a good mix of places to meet a wide range of needs. Residents can give their feedback, as well as read a comprehensive guide, on the Engage Wokingham Borough platform.
This is a hugely important project that the council is undertaking to make sure that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities have the right sort of education to help them thrive.
This will take a great deal of work after years of deficit in SEND funding at the same time as a significant increase in the number of children needing additional support.
These proposals, along with the new schools opening later this year, should turn around SEND education in the borough. Residents are strongly urged to find out more and share their views.
To take part in the survey, visit Engage Wokingham Borough.
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