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Former Walmer Science College in Deal to become a £4million extension of The Beacon special school in Folkestone

More than £4million will be invested towards the creation of a town's first special school.

Around 240 pupils living with disabilities - notably autism and social, emotional mental health needs - will study at the former Walmer Science College in Deal when a new school will in six months' time.

The former Walmer Science College in Deal will become an extension of Folkestone's The Beacon School
The former Walmer Science College in Deal will become an extension of Folkestone's The Beacon School

The satellite school will include primary and secondary provision. It will be run by an 'outstanding' Ofsted-rated school, Folkestone's The Beacon, which will see its total student numbers rise from 380 to 620 places.

A decision to approve the plans was unanimously backed by Kent County Council's education committee yesterday at Maidstone County Hall.

The Beacon's headteacher, Neil Birch, said: "This will be an exciting addition to the educational landscape in the town."

The move comes amid a rising demand for special school places across the county, with the number of Kent children with education health plans (EHCPs) growing from 7,374 to 11,763 (60%) between 2014 and 2019.

In Dover, KCC say there are insufficient school places for students with special needs.

"This will be an exciting addition to the educational landscape in the town."

To cope, some education institutions in the district have had to allow for bigger student rolls than its capacity size, such as Dover Christ Church Academy, which has 54 on its roll compared to the designated 40 pupils.

Whitfield Aspen Primary School, in the village's Mayfield Road, has also expanded to cater for extra students, rising from 58 to 112 between 2014 and 2019.

The original plans of The Beacon, based in Park Farm Road, were to open satellite provision for 168 pupils at the Walmer site, but school representatives lobbied KCC to allow this to be extended to 240.

Kent county councillor Gary Cooke (Con) called for an amendment to be made in yesterday's meeting to accept the school's request. This was approved by KCC's children's, young people and education committee.

The Beacon's chair of governors, Julie Nixon, said: "As a governing body we have been frustrated by the capacity issues we have at the Beacon Folkestone.

The Beacon School is graded Outstanding by Ofsted
The Beacon School is graded Outstanding by Ofsted

"We are frequently approached by parents who would like their children to access our outstanding school but are unable to offer places to them as we are full and have no option to expand our setting.

"We are excited about the option of developing further provision in Walmer."

The Walmer Science College was formerly a mainstream secondary school, which was vacated in August 2018.

Plans are in place to refurbish the existing building for the new school in three phases, with the first phase due to be completed this September.

It would see a complete refurbishment of the compass centre to provide an Early Years and Key Stage One block with an outdoor play space.

The Beacon school in Folkestone can't meet demand
The Beacon school in Folkestone can't meet demand

Phases two and three will include the creation of drop and pick up areas; car parking for staff, taxis and minibuses and the demolition of the ROSLA building. A completion date for all stages has yet to be decided.

The refurbishment plans will cost in the region of £4m. The first phase of the development is estimated to be £1.6m while around £3m will be funded by the Government (the remainder by KCC).

Cllr Derek Murphy (Con), who represents Deal and Walmer at county level, said he "wholeheartedly" supports the move.

He added: "Hopefully this will reduce travel time for many pupils, bringing back into use an excellent educational facility in line with KCCs policy to maintain the school as an educational establishment."

READ MORE: All the breaking news across Kent

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