Plan to create extra 300 school places for Oxfordshire children with special educational needs

New primary and secondary schools are earmarked for Banbury. Photo: stock
New primary and secondary schools are earmarked for Banbury. Photo: stock

A proposal to create 300 new school places for Oxfordshire children with special educational needs (SEND) with a £15m investment have been revealed today (Monday, December 10).

Oxfordshire County Council plans to also have 68 places in mainstream schools with ‘resource bases’, including one in Banbury, and spend £9.5m refurbishing Northfield School in Oxford.

This would be accompanied by a new school at Bloxham Grove in north Oxfordshire, which is due to open in 2020, and at Valley Park, Didcot, which is planned to open in 2023, as part of a free school application process

Cabinet member for education Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale will make a final decision with cabinet colleagues on December 18.

“Our simple aim is to invest in and develop a good quality local provision which meets the needs of children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire,” she said.

“We want pupils in the right provision at the right place with a local first approach to ensure children’s needs are at the core of planning.

“We want to reduce the numbers of children who are currently being educated out of the county, with a preference to having enough provision to meet the needs of the majority of children locally.

“We would like to reduce demand for specialist placements particularly in the independent non-maintained sector.”

The county council has been conducting a wide-ranging review of its SEND provision after the large increases in the numbers of children with such needs entering education in recent years, which is expected to continue.

In addition to the three new special schools, 68 places will be created through new ‘resource bases’ located in mainstream schools.

Banbury’s will be at Longford Park Primary School to start with before moving to the new Southam Road primary school once that opens in 2020. Others are planned for Bicester, Didcot, Barton and Witney.

The current special school expansions at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage, Bardwell School in Bicester and John Watson School in Wheatley will continue.

The council would also seek like to relocate and expand accommodation used by the secondary phase of Bishopswood School in Sonning Common.

Cllr Lindsay-Gale added: “After six years our strategy would be unlocking savings of £7m a year while at the same time delivering better education for pupils.

“These proposed changes are to ensure there is a sufficient supply of places.

“The school age population is rising and is forecast to continue to do so due to proposed large scale housing growth together with an increase in numbers of children being diagnosed with SEND needs.

“We have seen an increase in the requests for Education and Health Care Needs Assessments since 2013 (77 per cent), some of this is a result of the SEND Reform Act of 2014 which increased the age range from 2-19 to 0-25 years.

“While these plans are ambitious and wide-ranging we should stress that they will not deliver changes overnight, there is a great deal of work to do.”

Northfield School has recently seen a £600,000 investment to deal with serious structural issues to the building at the site but would now receive £9.5m to rebuild the school to accommodate about 100 children.

Cllr Lindsay-Gale said: “Everybody at the council is very much aware that it has been a difficult period for Northfield School and at one stage the council was considering closure.

“The future of the school would not only be secured if my cabinet colleagues decide to go along with the recommendations of officers at our December 18 cabinet meeting, but would enable the school to expand and become a real focal point for special educational needs throughout Oxfordshire.”