New school and centre of excellence will improve lives and save money

View of St Marys School, Shaftesbury

A new school with fantastic facilities will improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs, after ambitious plans were today (29/4) given the go-ahead.

Bold plans to create a new school for around 280 pupils with SEND, (special educational needs and or disabilities) and a leading national centre of excellence near Shaftesbury have been approved by councillors.

Dorset Council’s Cabinet made the important decision to use the former St Mary’s site to deliver high quality education for Dorset children and young people with SEND, after carefully considering the views of local people, who overwhelmingly said it should 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. We are determined to make Dorset the best place to grow-up by investing in forward thinking initiatives like this.

“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.

“Our ambitious vision 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. This is because 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.

A wider ranging, ambitious £37.5m plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs was also unveiled by Dorset Council last month. This funding has been secured for the next five years to help deliver projects like St Mary’s, but also to create more provision in our existing high quality specials schools and new hubs at mainstream schools.

The St Mary’s site, which has extensive educational facilities within 55 acres, was bought earlier this year after Dorset Council spotted its potential. The new school will be at the heart of a new centre of excellence on the site, with complementary facilities for vulnerable children, young people and adults. The council’s plans to create a leading learning environment where professionals from across the region, and possibly nationally, can come together to learn, research and improve their practice. The centre will also be used to provide short breaks and respite care for vulnerable children and adults, as well as great facilities for our Dorset children in care and our care leavers.

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 decided yet, 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. Public access to the site will have to be carefully managed in order to safeguard the vulnerable children and adults who will be at the site, their safety and wellbeing has to be the top priority.

If you would like to keep up to date with the project please sign-up for our St Mary’s Shaftesbury update here.

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New school and centre of excellence will improve lives and save money