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New school for children with emotional and mental health needs earmarked for Lancaster

A new primary school for children with social, emotional and mental health needs is earmarked to be created in Lancaster.

It’s set to be based in the former Firbank Children's Centre on Firbank Road, and would be the first of its kind in North Lancashire.

Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet has approved the undertaking of the process to establish a new school in Lancaster for primary aged pupils presenting with social, emotional and mental health needs, in accordance with the updated Department for Education 'Establishing a New School: Free School Presumption' guidance and associated framework.

There are currently six state-funded special schools for children presenting with social, emotional and mental health needs in Lancashire. Four of these schools are for secondary aged pupils and two are for primary aged pupils. None of these special schools for children with social, emotional and mental health needs are located within the Lancaster/Morecambe area.

Currently there are 41 children between the ages of five and eleven who live in the north of the county and who attend independent or non-maintained special schools for pupils presenting with social, emotional and mental health needs. The annual cost of this is £1.7m.

The average cost of a maintained special school place for a primary aged child with social, emotional and mental health needs in Lancashire is £20k and therefore the additional cost to the high needs block for these pupils is circa £1m a year.

There are 54 secondary aged pupils living in the north area of the county who attend independent or non-maintained special schools for pupils presenting with social, emotional and mental health needs. The overall cost of this each year is £2.3m.

The building being proposed as the site for the new school is linked to rooms that will be used for a private nursery and is adjacent to a mainstream primary school. The proposed site is therefore considered to be more suitable for a special school for primary aged rather than secondary aged pupils.

It is proposed the new free school would be in the former Firbank Children's Centre, currently on the same site as Castle View Primary School in Lancaster. The primary school is in a separate building to Firbank Children's Centre. Castle View Primary School is due to convert to an academy on 1 July 2022, when it will become part of the Cidari Multi Academy Trust and at this point will have its own defined site and external area.

This proposal to use the Firbank Children's Centre building to develop a new free school for primary aged pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs has been discussed with the chief executive officer of Cidari Multi Academy Trust. The main rooms of Firbank Children's Centre are occupied by a private nursery, which has requested relocation to an annex attached by a link corridor to the main part of the children's centre building.

It is proposed the new free school occupies the main part of the children's centre building and that the nursery occupies the annex. The nursery and the new free school will have separate entrances and the link corridor will not be used. The nursery and the new free school will have dedicated external play areas that would not be accessible to the other party. It is anticipated it would be possible to adapt the main part of the building to create six classrooms and to use two other smaller rooms for pupils who require smaller teaching groups and so provide accommodation for up to 52 pupils.

Under the government-mandated process for establishing a new school, the county council is responsible for funding any building work and providing the site. The authority also has to invite proposals from potential sponsors, one of which will be chosen to operate the facility once it opens.

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