A new Free School for children with Social Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH) and Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) will finally be taking pupils in September 2020 in a temporary building in South Gloucestershire.
SEN insiders have told us that Education Health and Care Plan consults have been sent from Local Authority SEN teams to the school for children to start in September this year.
Consultation documents for the new school states that it will officially open its doors to 88 students from across Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset in January 2021. It aims to expand numbers to take on a total of 136 students by the end of its first three years.
We’ve been told that spaces are already being allocated for September this year at a temporary building vacated by SGS Pegasus School in 2019, located over 6 miles away from the Soundwell location.
Autism Free School SGS Pegasus in South Gloucestershire, originally opened in 2017 in the same temporary building based in Patchway Community School. In November 2019, it finally opened in a brand new purpose built £11m school on the same site, leaving its former building empty. Insiders say this is where the new Free School will open and run until its new building is ready.
The site of the new free school build is currently going through the planning process at South Gloucestershire Council. It’s hoped that it will open at the former Soundwell College site on St Stephen’s Road in Kingswood, South Gloucestershire with spaces for up to 136 young people aged 5-18 years of age with SEMH or SLCN.
The school aims to run a full academic curriculum alongside a vocational curriculum which will include courses such as hair and beauty, hospitality and construction. The site will also include a short-break residential provision for up to 12 young people for two-night breaks during the school week.
The new Free School by Learn@ MAT was originally planned to be opened in 2019/20 with 80 places for SEMH needs as well as SLCN, according to Bristol City Council’s Strategic Case for SEND Capital Expenditure.
Former Bristol Education Director, Alan Stubbersfield wrote in his Review of SEND Capacity and Projection Data, that the new Free School would definitely have places for autistic children. But, other paperwork for the new school shows this is not the case.
Learn@ Multi-Academy Trust (Learn@ MAT) is the specialist education trust opening the school. It already runs four academies across Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and Wiltshire. Two are specialist school Academies – Knowle DGE Academy and Notton House Academy. And, two are Alternative Provisions (AP) – St Matthias Academy and Lansdown Park Academy. The schools provide education for children and young people aged from 5-18 years of age who have been diagnosed with SEMH or SLCN needs.
The school will be a welcome addition to the city, with special school places in Bristol at crisis point after a planning failure meant that specialist provision was not expanded to meet the needs of the growing population.
Bristol City Council’s Strategic Case for SEND Capital Expenditure Increasing and Rationalising Specialist
Provision in Bristol for children with special educational needs and disabilities, says that ‘specialist educational placements have not increased in order to meet the rising numbers of pupils’ despite a need to do so due to increases in the city’s population since 2004.
The report even says that Bristol City Council’s strategy to provide school places for children and young people was developed as part of a citywide school planning co-ordinated strategy for 2015-2019 (Integrated Education Capital
Strategy of 2015 IECS). However, what actually happened was the IECS ended up bringing about ‘very limited change’ to the Bristol’s specialist education provision. What it did do was increase the number of mainstream school places while projects for specialist provision ‘remained unfunded’.
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