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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New special school for 300 pupils to be built in Harrow to meet growing demand

A North London borough is to build its first new special school in more than 20 years after the council’s bid was approved by the Department for Education (DfE). The school will provide places for nearly 300 pupils with severe learning difficulties and autism to meet the borough’s growing demand.

Last week (9 May), the DfE approved Harrow Council’s bid for a new Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) school at 265 The Ridgeway – a site now owned by the local authority – having previously denied a bid on three previous occasions. It will provide an additional 292 places for local children aged 4 to 19, according to the council.

The demand for SEND school places is growing nationally, with Harrow experiencing the same trend. The council claims the new school will bring ‘significant benefits’ both to families in the borough, as well as to the council by reducing costs associated with travel and placing children in out-of-borough educational settings.

There are currently four special schools in Harrow, with just under 500 places between them. However, over the past five years the borough has seen a 55 per cent increase in the number of young people with education, health and care plans – resulting in a significant gap in the availability of places.

SEND places are also provided in Harrow’s mainstream schools, but limited places mean some children with additional needs currently have to attend special schools outside the borough. Harrow Council leader, Cllr Paul Osborn, called the approval of a new purpose built facility ‘truly amazing’.

He said: “We’ve been working towards this moment for many years – it’s truly amazing news for our borough. This decision enables us to deliver something truly life-changing – a great facility that will benefit kids and young people in Harrow for decades to come.”

The number of SEND places has increased by 84 since 2019, according to the council, with additional provision created at Pinner Wood, Stanburn, and Grange Primary Schools, as well as Belmont and Kingsley High School. It recently approved plans to provide an additional 30 places at Alexandra School – one of the borough’s four existing special schools.

However, more places are needed. As the demand has soared over the past few years, the council has been left struggling to fulfil its legal requirement to provide enough SEND places, ultimately leading to greater strain being put on mainstream schools.

The average cost of placing a SEND pupil outside of the borough is, depending on the complexity of their needs, an estimated £70,000 to £80,000, compared to around £32,000 in the borough. In the case of Alexandra School, it is anticipated that increasing the number of places could save the council up to £1.3 million a year, with a further £210,000 saved from the SEND Transport budget.

Harrow’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Hitesh Karia, said: “Parents often tell me about the challenges they face – this new school will provide invaluable support to them and their children. We are going further with special needs places. I am also pleased that we approved additional SEND places at Alexandra School. Both are fantastic achievements that show our commitment to put residents first and support those most in need.”

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