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Money agreed to boost SEN projects

Thursday, October 14th, 2021 12:03pm

By Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

More places will be provided for children in Okehampton and Tiverton

Extra money has been agreed for projects in Okehampton and Tiverton to provide more places for children with special educational needs.

£1.9 million will be spent on finishing a new special school in Okehampton, due to open in September 2022, with £840,000 going towards extending the ACE Tiverton school into a nearby building recently bought by Devon County Council.

Together, they will provide an additional 130 places in schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Members of the council’s ruling cabinet were told that the new school opening next year at East Okehampton Business Park,  has a budget of £8.8 million. However, a funding shortfall of £1.9 million has been identified, blamed on rising prices, design changes and a shortage of labour.

A delay to building also means it is now not expected to be complete until around February 2023, but officers are working to find temporary accommodation so it can open as planned next September.

On the ACE Tiverton project, a report considered by the cabinet said: “An opportunity has arisen to purchase a former adult day centre in Tiverton, adjacent to the ACE Tiverton special school, this is now complete.

“There is now a need to complete the detailed design and construction necessary to provide a facility which is required for a special school building.”

To date, £140,000 has been spent on purchasing the building and to start detailed designs for converting it. A further £700,000 will pay for finishing the building so it can provide an additional 30 SEND places. The school will require planning permission.

Cabinet member for children’s services Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside & Topsham) said: “It is good news, we need these places and we’re looking to cabinet to agree this additional funding”

Councillor Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said he fully supported the plan and added: “I think the time for closing schools and outsourcing is over and the sooner we can bring all services like this back in house to Devon, the better, and the better for our children.”

Leader of the Labour group, Councillor Rob Hannaford (Exwick & St Thomas), welcomed “this significant investment in special school places” and praised the work that has gone on behind the scenes.

“I also think we need to flag up the fact that mainstream isn’t right for all pupils with special needs. No doubt when this goes out to the media there’ll be lots of comments on social media etc about the fact we’re investing in this area again, but it has to be what’s right for the children,” Cllr Hannaford said.

Proposals are also being developed for a new free school close to the border of Plymouth and additional special school places in North Devon.

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