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Plans for major overhaul of special needs education in Wirral
A MAJOR shake up is planned for special needs education in Wirral.
A government funding scheme of around £25m has presented a "once in a generation" opportunity, according to Wirral Council education experts.
The overhaul of education provision for pupils with complex learning difficulties will be undertaken over a five-year programme and, if approved later this month by the town hall cabinet, will herald fundamental changes including:
* A special needs further education complex set up at a new campus of Wirral Met College for students aged 16 to 19.
* The replacement of Stanley and Elleray Park schools with two new-build centres attached to existing primary schools (called 'co-location').
A series of consultation meetings has been taking place over the past 12 months as the authority carried out a review of special needs provision.
Educationalists discussed the scheme in detail with parents, headteachers and governors of Stanley, Elleray Park and the Lyndale School.
It is not proposed at present to include Lyndale in the plans pending a further study of its unique services.
Wirral Council, like some others in the UK, has been moving away from a policy of attempting to integrate special needs children with mainstream pupils.
"I think that it has generally been agreed that this approach was not working," said Peter Edmonson, the council's head of participation and integration.
"The emphasis now is to give special needs pupils their own space.
"Our approach will be to do this but within their own school, attached to a secondary school site.
"It will mean that children, if they feel ready and able to do so, can integrate with the mainstream, while those who are not at that stage, do not have to.
"It's all about letting the child progress at their own pace."
The council believes that the existing schools, although excellent learning establishments, were suffering from a lack of space to expand and improve their facilities.
Cllr Phil Davies, cabinet member for children’s services and lifelong learning, said: "These are very good schools operating in buildings that in many cases are no longer fit for purpose.
"It is not about reducing the overall number of places - indeed we anticipate an increase in post 16 provision under the proposals, and will still require a similar number of staff to teach, support and care for the pupils.
"This is the beginning of a process, during which we will be liaising closely with pupils, parents, headteachers, carers and other agencies to ensure that the excellent provision we currently have for children with special needs is carried forward into the future."
Talks are well underway with Wirral Met towards a scheme which would allow the authority to work in partnership with the college to establish a post-16 learning centre for special needs students.
Director of children and young people’s department, Howard Cooper, said: "This is a once in a generation opportunity for some of our most vulnerable children and young people to benefit from the investments we are making in ensuring that all our schools, both special and mainstream, are fit for the demands of the 21st century.
"Co-location of the proposed new schools offers enormous potential for further including our pupils with special needs in mainstream life and providing a learning pathway, which takes them from childhood to adult life.
"Working closely with parents and all the other services who these children and their families need can only enhance this."
Cabinet meets next Thursday to discuss the wide-ranging proposals.
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