Plans to open a new free school to serve South Gloucestershire, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset took a step forward this week.
Learn@ Multi-Academy Trust will now work with all three councils and the Department for Education to progress detailed plans to provide a 136-place school for students aged between 5 and 18 who have a combination of social, emotional, mental health or speech, language and communication needs.
The new school will also provide much needed weekday overnight support and accommodation in a 12-place respite unit and a 20-place 6thform.
During the next few months designs will be drawn up for the old 4.8 acre Soundwell College site in Kingswood to become a modern school including vocational areas for engineering, vehicle workshop, hair and beauty and hospitality and catering training. It is anticipated that part of the current site will be demolished and rebuilt and the rest of the old college refurbished.
Providing employment for up to 80 staff across teaching, administration, technical support, catering and maintenance it is anticipated that the school will fully open by September 2020.
Learn@ Multi-Academy Trust Chief Executive Peter Evans said: “There are too many young people across the region who are not getting the right education as they cannot be offered a place in a specialist school. Often they end up excluded with limited opportunities for progression to further education.
“Our new school will be modelled on Knowle DGE Academy which has an excellent track record in providing tailored learning for children with a variety of complex needs. Too often we are turning families away as we do not have enough places to offer.
“Many of the young people we see have not had the best start at school for reasons that are not their fault – we aim to turn this around for them and will continue to work closely with local primary and secondary schools for early planning and referrals.”
Cllr Anna Keen, Bristol’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “In Bristol, we’ve been working hard to ensure every local child has access to a place in the future across all our primary, secondary and special schools in the face of a growing population. As part of this we’ve been working alongside Learn@ Multi Academy Trust and the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to ensure places for Bristol students at this new nearby special free school and I am glad to see that there will be space for 80 of our pupils once completed.”
South Gloucestershire Council Leader, with Cabinet responsibility for Schools, Skills and Employment, Cllr Toby Savage, said: “We are looking forward to working with Learn@ Multi-Academy Trust and are keen to see their plans in full detail.
“As a Council, we are investing in expanding educational opportunities across the district, with a particular focus on opportunities for SEND children for whom specialised schooling can make such a difference to the lives of the children and their families. We have had discussions with Learn@ and plan to commission 32 places for pupils from South Gloucestershire once the school has been completed.”
Once plans have been drawn up for the site they will be submitted to South Gloucestershire Council for approval. The Department for Education has approved Learn@ MAT as providers for a new specialist free school and their free school developer, LocatED purchased the Kingswood site in 2017.