springfield school - specialist

A special school in South Cheshire has been given the go-ahead to provide an extra 80 places for children with severe learning difficulties – subject to securing planning permission, writes Belinda Ryan.

Springfield School in Crewe, which has been rated “outstanding” in its last four Ofsted inspections, is set to increase its pupil numbers from 170 to 250 in September of next year.

Cheshire East’s children and families committee was unanimous in granting approval – but the school still has to secure planning permission, which is a separate process.

CEC director of education Jacky Forster said: “This [expansion] is in line with the strategy that we already have about the need to increase local SEND [special education needs and disabilities] places to make sure we can meet the needs of local children without the need to place children out of borough in more costly settings that also have costly transport and, in some cases, actually unreasonable travel distances for those children.

“Absolutely at the heart of this is the best interests for our children.”

Springfield School is the only school in the south of the borough for children and young people with severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties.

It is now full and operating slightly over capacity by 30 places.

Mrs Forster told the committee on Monday (May 23) expanding the Crewe school would enable the young people to remain in their local community.

She added: “Without this programme, we would need to continue to place children out of borough, so we anticipate that this will mitigate what could become an overspend of approximately £2.8m.”

She said that figure would not include transport costs if children had to be sent to other schools.

Springfield headteacher Lisa Hodgkison told the committee: “We’re really excited about the expansion.

“We’ve got huge numbers of children, from the age of four, that are travelling distances of about an hour to an hour and a half a day for out of borough provision, which is costly.

“I show parents on a daily basis around our provision and they’re so desperate for their children to stay within their local community and it’s so sad having to give that news that we’re over capacity, and we can’t fulfil those needs.

“The demand is there, and we want to take more children and keep them in Crewe.

“We keep striving to make the provision better for our children by the facilities and we have to be ever changing.

“Our cohort in the last six years has changed dramatically and our children are becoming more complex so we’ve had to put in a training school within school to ensure that all of our staff have the right skill-set to be able to teach the children and be able to allow them to progress.”

Committee chair Kathryn Flavell (Sandbach Elworth, Lab) said this new expansion was in addition to plans to expand Springfield on to a satellite site at Dean Row in Wilmslow, which was going ahead.

Poynton councillor Jos Saunders (Con) asked whether the school would be talking to parents of children who travelled long distances to their current special school to see if they wanted to move to Springfield.

Mrs Forster said there weren’t huge numbers who travelled long distances because they couldn’t get a place at Springfield – most were as close to their homes as possible.

“We would work with Lisa to assess any families where there was long distance and look to have conversations with them and, obviously, we’ll have to manage that carefully otherwise we would straight away fill the places,” she said.

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