Published: 21/06/2009 00:00 - Updated: 30/06/2009 16:52

Special school savings debate

Closure and merger are two options being considered for Special Educational Needs schools.

At a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council's executive on Tuesday, councillors will hear that letting things remain as they are would result in inefficient use of council resources.

At stake are the futures of Hitchmead and Sunnyside schools in Biggleswade.

Hitchmead caters for seven to 16 years olds with mild learning disabilities and its roll call has 'reduced significantly' over the last five years, from 87 pupils to 51.

Sunnyside provides for children aged between three and 19 with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and currently has more 98 pupils, which the council says is more than the building is able to accommodate.

The possible options set out by the council's report are:

■ The merger of Hitchmead and Sunnyside

■ The closure of Hitchmead and the redistribution of its pupils

■ The closure of both schools and the provision of a new one.

The council report also says that any other proposals that emerge will be considered.

The possible merger of the two schools would release £111,000 of revenue funding for special schooling and the additional accommodation would reduce 'out of county' placement costs by up to £300,000 a year for each pupil affected.

Closing Hitchmead would release a further £69,000 and could allow for the site to be sold but re-allocating its pupils to another specialist school in Dunstable would result in extra transport costs.

Central Bedfordshire's children's services portfolio holder Cllr Anita Lewis, said: "In order to consider any change to the structure of schools, a consultation is required by statute. Without a consultation no decision to change provision could be taken.

"Responses to a consultation would allow the council to work closely with all interested parties to clarify the options and reach a considered decision. If it is decided not to consult then no change to the current provision can be made."
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