Children with special educational needs and disabilities will have more opportunity to go to school closer to where they live, under new proposals outlined by West Sussex County Council.
Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills, has agreed to instigate a programme aimed at increasing the number of special support centres within mainstream schools.
The centres allow children with additional needs such as autism or social, emotional and mental health needs to be educated in mainstream settings.
There are currently 32 centres in West Sussex, and the proposals would see up to 11 more created over the next three years, opening up more than 100 extra places across the county.
Phase one would see two new centres created at nursery schools in Chichester and Horsham, and two more added to primary schools, with the aim of opening this September.
Mr Burrett said: “The large rise in the number of young people identified with additional needs and the shortage of local provision has seen more children placed in specialist schools outside of their local area.
“Strengthening and expanding our educational needs provision in mainstream schools will allow more children to receive high quality education locally, reducing their travel and helping them build friendships in their local communities.”
Phases two and three could then see seven more centres created in primary and secondary schools across West Sussex.
The number of children with an education, health and care plan has gone from 3,423 in March, 2015, to 4,912 in August, 2018, an increase of 43 per cent. Local authorities fund this, and now also support people with educational needs up to the age of 25.
With no additional funding from central government, West Sussex is having to balance its overall high needs budget.
Investing in the new centres would enable more West Sussex children to be educated locally, in line with the county council’s current strategy. It would also reduce the council’s high travel costs because of the number of children currently placed in expensive, out-of-county provision, creating a predicted overall budget saving. Children in current placements would not be affected by this proposal.
The proposals were discussed at the children’s and young people’s services select committee last week where members endorsed the development of a full business case for consideration within the council’s Capital Programme.