Concerns over school travel for children with special needs

Concerns over school travel for children with special needs

Published by Maria Greenwood at 11:35am 14th March 2019.

Councillor Andrew Parry says youngsters are spending too long being taken to and from school.

Children with special needs in Dorset often spend too long being taken to and from school according to the county brief holder for education.

Cllr Andrew Parry (pictured below) told council colleagues that some pupils, usually attending special schools, started out from home at 7am and did not get back until 5 or 6pm.

“That is too long a day for any child let alone a child with special needs,” he told a meeting of the shadow Dorset Council executive.

He and other councillors learnt the details first hand from pupils during a visit to Westfield College in Weymouth.

He says the aim of the new Dorset Council will be to develop more places, closer to home, so that children with additional needs can minimise the amount of time spent travelling to and from school.

andrew parry

Cllr Parry was speaking as news about Government funding for a new special school for the county was announced.

The council is also about the start a review into school transport for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

The meeting heard that the county has just been given funding for a new free special school which will support up to 75 young people aged 14-19 with autism and complex learning difficulties.

A statement from Andrew Reid, Dorset County Council’s Assistant Director for Schools and Learning, said: “This is fantastic news. We want to provide more specialist provision here in Dorset, as there are a lot of young people who currently have to travel outside of the county to receive the support they need.

The new school will mean pupils spend less time travelling and will be educated closer to their families and local communities.

“It will also mean that we won’t have to rely as much on independent placements, which will help ease some of the pressure on schools’ high needs funding.

school child with crayons

A decision about the location for the new school has yet to be decided and academy trusts will being invited to run it.

Last year, the council committed to invest over £2M together with a £1M grant from central Government, in creating a number of specialist bases in mainstream schools across the county. These have already been filled with other pupils waiting for places.

A new special school will open in Bovington this September. Funded by the DfE, it will provide places for another 160 children with autism, as well as social emotional and mental health needs. The school will take pupils from across Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole.

Cllr Parry also welcomed, at the Monday meeting in Dorchester, a decision to allocate £2.6million of what is known as the higher needs block, within the schools budgets, to special education needs pupils. He said the move was “great news,” but was interrupted by Weymouth councillor, David Harris, who was it was only great news for some and would have an effect on the overall budget for schools.

The decision had been opposed by the Dorset Schools Forum, but it was then overturned on appeal to the Government.

The Forum had argued that Dorset is disadvantaged in its funding, receiving £135 less per child than neighbouring Hampshire, and that it should have additional funding rather than re-allocate funds within the existing schools budget.

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter

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