New special schools in Sheffield already full – another 300 new places needed as demand rockets

Two new special schools opening in Sheffield are already oversubscribed – with an additional 300 school places needed in coming years.

Thursday, 17th March 2022, 3:34 pm

In the last few years, 214 additional special school places have been created for pupils who are disabled or have special needs.

A further 116 places are in the pipeline with the two new special schools. Nexus Multi Academy Trust is opening in September 2022. Discovery Academy will be based at Norfolk Park for children aged seven to 16.

And Wellspring Academy Trust is opening a further special school in September 2023.

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Two new special schools opening in Sheffield are already oversubscribed - with an additional 300 school places needed in coming years

But council officers say more needs to be done. Officer Nicola Shearstone said: “SEND is under significant pressure. We’re developing 50 places but that’s nowhere near enough.

“We’ve already developed over 200 places in the last few years, that’s about a 20 per cent increase on what we already had, and yet provision of places remains a significant challenge.

“This challenge is reflected nationally – the number of children in specialist settings has risen by 27 per cent since 2014 and continues to increase.

“It is currently forecast that demand for special school places will rise by 30 per cent over the next five years, and this could rise to 50 per cent in a worst-case scenario.

Sheffield Council says providing enough school places for SEND pupils is a significant challenge

“This means at least 300 additional places are needed based on the potential rise in demand of 30 per cent.”

Why is there such a demand for SEND places?

Rose Ward, head of SEND at Sheffield Council, told a meeting that the majority of places were needed at secondary level as the greatest demand for special schools is seen from Y6/7 as pupils transition.

She said: “The cause of this demand is the continuing rise in needs relating to autism and social, emotional and mental health needs.

“We’re also seeing more pupils stay in special schools post-16, further reducing the places available.

“Demand for special school places is a moving picture and we are continually monitoring demand, we refresh forecasts on an annual basis.”

Serious lack of funding

Ms Ward said there were two two key impediments to creating extra school places.

“The lack of capital funding which we anticipate we need is in the region of £30m. The last allocation from central government was £1.9m.

“And the existing special schools estate is largely maxed out with limited room to expand.

“To create these places we are looking at further free school bids if opportunities become available. This is the most realistic way to secure the capital requirement.”

Any new school is now classed as a free school, which means it is not controlled by the council.

Coun Cate McDonald, Executive member for finance, said: “Just to make absolutely clear, I said it before and it will keep on saying it, the Government is not adequately funding our school system at the moment.

“It’s up to us, we’ve had to fill that gap and everybody knows how stretched our finances are.”

Extra primary school places

The council is spending £1 million on developing five integrated resources to provide 56 places in primary schools for SEND pupils.

Integrated resources are dedicated spaces in mainstream schools for complex SEND pupils who split their time between classes and receiving support.

The places will be at Acres Hill at Darnall, Stannington Infant, Malin Bridge and Greenhill primary schools.

Integrated resources need physical space and adaptations, to cater for needs such as sensory, for them to be successful but that is costly.

SEND in mainstream schools

Officer Nicola Shearstone said: “Pupils with special needs can and do fit in a mainstream school and the importance of this experience is invaluable.

“Mainstream school introduces SEN pupils to a range of different people with varying abilities and needs, which most closely replicates the people and environments they will encounter throughout their lives.”

The council says more needs to be done to support SEND children in mainstream schools.

Director of education Andrew Jones told a meeting: “We probably have too few children with EHCP in mainstream schools.

“They require a specialist place but special schools are maxed out and we have children going out of the city for their specialist placement.

“Both the specialist provision, along with all the transportation that’s required, is even more expensive than in-city provision so our resources tend to be skewed and we need to break that vicious cycle.

“We need a continuing conversation with mainstream schools as part of that.”

Coun Anne Murphy says some schools are unprepared for dealing with children who have special needs.

Schools really don’t understand some of the challenges the young people present to them, they’re not prepared for it.

“Even if funding is in place for extra support in schools, it seems to be quite a challenge for a lot of the schools to actually manage it.

“At one time in Sheffield, there was a pushback to parents about getting as many children with SEND into normal schools in the area. That became very challenging for a lot of parents.”

More places post-16

The council is also looking at creating and improving places for SEND pupils post-16, which would free up school places.

Ms Ward said: “About 180 post-16 places are available from September, which is an increase of 70 from the previous year and we’re working with Sheffield College to help improve the offer.

“Looking ahead, if there was a free school opportunity, it’s likely we would bid for a post-16 specialist school to further increase the number of places.”