Joy as county council agrees a new special needs school should be built in Fenland
Fenland councillors are jubilant after a motion calling for a new special needs school in the district won unanimous support from Cambridgeshire County council.
Councillor Sam Hoy brought a motion to the meeting on Tuesday calling for the county to consider a new SEND school pointing out the area has a higher proportion of children with special needs and disabilities than other parts of the county.
She also asked for the full council meeting to consider how long children, and those in Fenland in particular, could spend travelling to special schools outside the local area.
At present the council's guidelines say it is okay for a primary age child to undertake journeys of up to 45 minutes and in the case of secondary school pupils that rises to 75 minutes.
But Coun Hoy said these times have often been exceeded and said that now needed to be corrected.
She said: “We all may know that travel can be a massive trigger for neurodivergent children and that is made much worse by longer journey times.
“If you have got something that is already a trigger for you and is already going to cause anxiety, having to have that for an even longer period of time is going to heighten that anxiety.
“The first thing this motion is doing is asking committee to re-look at this policy, have a think again, is there something we can do differently, are we able to recognise the additional needs of children with SEND and make an exception for them in these circumstances.
“Secondly the motion also calls on the committee to look at an additional special school in Fenland.
“The reason for this is there are double the amount of children with special educational needs needing a school place in Fenland than any other district. I think the number that came to committee was 35 average in most districts and it was 76 in Fenland, so the need is clearly there.”
She added: “It feels to me that this council is failing children with additional needs in Fenland.
“Everyday parents are naming schools on their education healthcare plans that we just are not able to provide and don’t appear to be making any plans to provide.
“It’s not just me saying this, look at the recent case where the council was fined by the ombudsman for leaving a vulnerable boy without education.
“There are real problems that we need to address. Seventy five children is too many, if this was in Cambridge city the school would have been built yesterday, and I think it urgently needs to be looked at to be built.”
Coun Hoy told the meeting that she would be in favour of expanding the existing SEND school in Wisbech, but said she did not think this would solve all of the issues, adding that she was a “little dubious” that any expansion would even take place due to the idea having been talked about for a number of years.
Councillor Bryony Goodliffe, the chair of the children and young people committee, said the county council is “actively looking” into a new SEND school in the Fenland district and would be applying for government funding to cover the capital costs for it.
Council leader Councillor Lucy Nethsingha said she was happy to support Coun Hoy’s motion, but said there should still be a focus on keeping children in mainstream schools.
She said: “I do think it is important that we look at the way mainstream schools are responding to children with SEND, as much part of this issue as the fact that children are being driven long distances around the county.
“I think it is really important that we need to reduce the length of journeys, that is important for the children, for their families, for the climate, for the council’s budget, for a whole variety of different reasons.
“But a much better way of making sure those children are better provided for is to make sure mainstream schools are holding as many of those children as they possibly can and supporting them within the mainstream school environment.
“Because where that is possible those children continue to be part of the community in which they live, they have friends nearby, all of those things are also enormously important.”
Councillor Lorna Dupré said the council needed to be careful working on the presumption that every child could get good quality education in a mainstream school. She told the meeting there can be cases where it is not possible, and said she hoped it would be kept in mind that appropriate provision should be made to meet the needs of the child.
When put to a vote the motion received unanimous support from councillors.
Speaking after the meeting March councillor Jan French, who in January presented a petition on behalf of March mum Amy Loveridge, whose son was held back a year because there was no SEND place for him, welcomed the move.
She said: "It is clear there is a need for a new special needs school and it is great the county council has recognised that. No child, whether they have special needs or not, should be put in a taxi to travel to a school 45 minutes away on their own. It is not good for them, it is not good for the parents or the family as a whole.
"The sooner we can get a new school built the better. We did have plans for a SEND school on Barton Road in Wisbech, but that got pulled last year."