Published: 18:11, 23 October 2018
| Updated: 19:20, 23 October 2018
Medway council has submitted a bid to central government to be considered as one of 30 local authorities to receive funding for a new free school.
If successful, the free school would provide places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
A new free school would help increase provision, as well as reduce the number of children who need to be placed out of area to help meet their educational needs.
Placing out of area can be expensive – the average cost of a 52-week residential SEND placement is £140,000, whereas local provision is considerably cheaper as the child can remain living at home.
In addition to the bid for a free school, the council is also exploring a proposal to provide a new independent school to help increase the number of school places available for children who have complex needs with challenging behaviour.
In September, Medway’s Cabinet agreed to lease the site at Cornwallis Avenue in Gillingham to Medway Commercial Group (MCG), with a proposal for MCG to build an independent school to help meet the demand on SEND school places.
Today, Cabinet approved the progression made by MCG to deliver an independent special school.
The proposed school could include provision for residential and respite care, and could cater for 210 children aged between seven and 19.
The £25million learning village could also provide additional support services, such as educational psychology, school nursing and access to other specialist support, and could also be open to the community outside of school hours.
The proposal for an independent school would also reduce the number of children who need to be placed out of area.
"The current cost of the 82 placements is approximately £5.2million – if places for these young people can be commissioned at the independent school there is the potential for considerable savings to the high needs budget.
Cllr Andrew Mackness, cabinet member for children’s services at the council, said: "It is important we plan now to ensure there is sufficient provision in years to come.
"We recognise that post 2020 more children will require a place at a special school, which can provide them with the specialist support they need to achieve their full potential.
"We have submitted a bid to central government for one of the start-up grants to help us provide a new free school for young people with special educational needs.
"This would provide the much-needed school places in Medway, reducing the number of young people who need to study out of area.
"The council is also exploring other ways to meet this demand, including through an independent school which could provide respite and residential facilities.
"We are committed to ensuring all of our young people are given the best start in life and have the opportunity of studying in Medway, close to their homes."
Medway's Labour party says it will call-in the decision taken by the cabinet.
Cllr Clive Johnson, who represents Gillingham South, said: "For many years the Medway Labour Group have called on the council to "spend to save" as regards out of area
SEN placements which have an impact both on council finances but more importantly the children and families involved.
"We as the main opposition group have raised concerns about MCG as regards their delivery of CCTV services and ceasing of governors services.
"MCG also has no track record of large scale capital programmes.
"There is a lack of clarity around financing of this capital programme and a lack of detail on the suitability of this particular site for this specific provision.
"For these reasons the Labour Group have called in the decision to ensure that when this much needed local provision is created it is done so in the most effective way, offering value for Medway taxpayers."