A new school with fantastic facilities will improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs, after ambitious plans were last week given the go-ahead.
Plans to convert St Marys into a new school for around 280 pupils with SEND, (special educational needs and or disabilities) and a leading national centre of excellence have been approved by councillors.
Local people overwhelmingly voted for the site to continue to be used for education. Cllr Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio holder for Children, Education and Early Help, said: “We have seized a unique opportunity to create something amazing for Dorset.
“The good news is that creating a new SEND school with fantastic facilities will not only improve the lives of Dorset children and young people, but will also save money in the future.
“We will reduce spending in the longer term because it costs almost three times as much to send a child away for private educational provision. We currently have to do this because our own excellent special schools are over-subscribed. This site has wonderful facilities, it would have cost a great deal more and taken several years, to build such an amazing school.”
Currently more than 250 Dorset children have to be sent away to independent special schools – at a cost of around £14 million a year.
It costs around £60,000 per child, per year for independent provision, compared to around £22,000 for high quality provision at one of Dorset’s own excellent special schools.
St Mary’s will be at the heart of a new centre of excellence, with facilities for vulnerable children, young people and adults. The centre will also be used to provide short breaks and respite care for vulnerable children and adults, as well as great facilities for Dorset children in care.
Plans are also being drawn-up to try and create opportunities for local ‘people in need’ to benefit from the site’s amazing facilities. Nothing has been comfirmed, but it is hoped that people who have been prescribed activities by the NHS to boost their mental and physical health will be able to access some of the leisure facilities, though public access will have to be carefully managed in order to safeguard the vulnerable children and adults who will be at the site.