Plans are being considered to expand Melton’s Birch Wood Area Special School as part of a drive to improve services for children with special educational needs across the county.
Leicestershire county council’s cabinet members will next week decide whether to launch a public consultation into the proposals which would cost more than £20million.
The ambitious proposals would see an increase in pupil numbers for special schools, such as Birch Wood, and the creation of 15 new specialist hubs in mainstream schools.
Proposals would provide for 15 extra students at Birch Wood School, which would include five youngsters who are on the autism spectrum.
The new hubs would involve small facilities with specialist staff where children can benefit from smaller teaching groups and extra help, whilst still having access to the mainstream school for certain activities.
The aim would be to provide each child with a personal timetable which is geared to their learning, emotional and social needs.
In addition, the proposals also include the building of three small schools for pupils with communication and interaction needs, particularly Autism Spectrum Disorder and social emotional and mental health needs.
If agreed, residents will be able to have their say about the development of the provision, which would help ensure that a sharp growth in demand for special educational needs (SEND) places can be met.
Ivan Ould, Leicestershire County Council cabinet member for children and families, said: “This is a highly ambitious programme and a significant investment, but we believe it is very much needed.
“Children should have the right to access high quality specialist education as close to home as possible, and for some families this currently isn’t the case.
“As it stands, we are expecting a 22 per cent rise in demand for SEND provision in the next five years and we simply don’t have enough local specialist facilities to offer support to our young people.
“We have already opened a number of new ASD resourced provisions in mainstream schools over the past few months and they have proven very successful, so part of the proposals include expanding this concept further and ensuring we have more specialist ‘hubs’ in our schools to support local needs.”
Staff at Birch Wood School currently teach around 160 students, aged from four to 19, from primary years to sixth form, where learning takes place at the associated Birch Wood Vale School.
Birch Wood, which was rated ‘good’ in its latest Ofsted inspection in June, is one of only five special schools in Leicestershire, although mainstream schools in the Melton borough and across the county do provide additional support to pupils requiring SEND assistance.
Expansion plans for the county’s four other special schools would allow for 28 additional students at Dorothy Goodman, 15 at Forest Way, 12 at Ashmount and five at Maplwell Hall (all on the autism spectrum).
Councillor Ould added: “We believe if we increase local capacity in our own schools we will not only help ease the pressure on our budgets but will also ensure that families can access appropriate high quality education in their communities.
“This may help avoid some pupils having to travel a significant distance to an appropriate school and the disruption this can cause to families.
“If the consultation is agreed, we want everyone to use it to let us know about how they consider the new schools and units should look, feel and work alongside other schools in the community, so that pupils with SEND are able to enjoy their time at school and achieve the best outcomes for their education.”
If agreed, the consultation will run for three months from January, with the outcomes then being presented to cabinet members for approval in the early summer.