23rd Sep, 2020

School for excluded kids in Solihull could close to make way for autistic free school

John Carlon 11th Feb, 2020 Updated: 11th Feb, 2020

A SCHOOL for excluded pupils could be closed to make way for an autistic free school.

Summerfield pupil referral unit in Smith’s Wood could close under plans put forward by Steve Fenton, head of education services.

Mr Fenton recommended the council ‘seek permission from [the Department for Education] to close Summerfield Education Centre.’

A new autistic free school is proposed to replace the pupil referral unit in Jensen House, on the Bosworth campus.

Summerfield only opened in 2018, taking the place of a pupil referral unit for primary age children, the Auckland Education Centre.

The council decided to close the Auckland Education Centre following a damning Ofsted report, which rated Auckland ‘inadequate’ on all categories.

Mr Fenton has told councillors the ‘potential closure of Summerfield would be dependant on having a suitable destination for all pupils currently on roll.’

One potential destination for the excluded children is Solihull Academy, in Cranmore Avenue.

In papers to be considered by Coun Ken Meeson, the portfolio holder for education, Mr Fenton has suggested the council consult on using the Summerfield site for the new free school.

Mr Fenton stated: “This consultation and development of proposals may demonstrate that Summerfield can be a viable provision, offering a good education and value for money… [but] the council is required to consider options to review spending falling within the high needs block.

“The initial priority would be to establish a provision offering 20 short stay places for children who have been permanently excluded. Alongside this, officers will work with headteachers and providers to develop a range of local alternative provision placement options for the council to commission.”

A proposal for Solihull to have its own autistic free school was agreed with the regional schools commissioner Andrew Warren in March 2019.

At the time, Coun Ken Meeson said: “We know we have comparatively high rates of autism diagnosis in the borough.

“For those pupils with more complex needs, creating a special free school will mean we can better meet current and future demand for places, whilst also extending local choice.

“On a practical level it also means we can educate more children and young people nearer to their homes.

“Spending less time being transported to and from school means they should receive a better learning experience.”

According to the Department for Education’s latest statistics, there are 53 children excluded from secondary schools in the borough.

The permanent exclusion rate in Solihull is 0.15, higher than the West Midlands average 0.13.

Solihull Council and the Department for Education were both contacted for comment.

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