The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Strategy "Building Communities of Specialist Provision; Together in Lincolnshire" has been collaboratively produced with all Special School Leaders, Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) and the Lincolnshire Parent Carer Forum to support the development of an integrated and sustainable school system where pupils can attend their nearest special school, confident that their education and health needs can be fully met.
The Building Communities of Specialist Provision Strategy is supported by a capital programme investment by the Local Authority of over £86m, which will enable all special schools to meet the needs of all pupils with SEND in their local community. As existing special schools are designed to meet specific categories of need, under this strategy each school will become "all needs" and buildings and facilities will be enhanced to support this change. In addition, this investment will increase the special school estate by over 500 places to address the growing demand, with significant capital investment to enhance facilities, ensuring all needs can be met and enabling the school to offer places to more Lincolnshire pupils.
Implementation of the strategy will address the current pressures which are making the existing special school system unsustainable: increased demand on a limited number of school places, excessively long journeys for a significant number of pupils, the potentially detrimental impact of some Out of County placements on families and the need for significant improvements to school buildings and facilities.
Since the introduction of the SEND Code of Practice in 2014, Lincolnshire has seen a significant increase in the number of pupils identified with SEND, with increasing numbers seeking a place at special school. There is high demand for special school places with over 50% of establishments functioning way beyond their physical capacity. The number of pupils requiring a place in special school is increasing by approximately 3% annually and there is no reason to believe this will reduce without intervention.
In a geographically vast county, where less than 30% of pupils with SEND attend their nearest school, distanced travelled to and from school has a significant impact on educational outcomes and pupil well-being and the current system has led to pupils being negatively impacted simply because their nearest school cannot meet their educational needs or is full. The proposed changes to the Lincoln St Christopher's School will result in significant reduction in journey length for many pupils and when the strategy is fully realised, more than 90% of pupils with SEND could having shorter journeys to school. The impact of excessively long journeys on pupils and families cannot be underestimated, with reduced school performance, challenging behaviour, increased levels of fatigue and poor
engagement possible. It is not uncommon for some pupils to have a three hour daily round trip to and from school and LCC believe that it is a basic matter of equity to strive for short and stress-free journeys to and from school.
At present, a significant number of pupils are educated in Out of County placements (Independent non-maintained Special Schools) as Lincolnshire schools have stated that they cannot meet the special educational needs of a particular learner or that their schools are full. Out of County placements may not always be the best way of achieving positive outcomes for pupils with SEND, and many parents report extra strain on family life. Being educated away from home can reduce the pupil's ability to form close social networks in their local community, leaving them with without a sense of belonging. The proposed changes would enable Lincoln St Christopher's School to meet the needs of more pupils who would have previously been educated in out of county placements, due to the expanded premises and enhanced facilities proposed from the capital investment program.
Lincoln St Christopher's School has experienced significant growth over the last few years; consultations for school places regularly exceed place availability and the school has accepted students beyond their physical capacity to ensure they can be educated locally. Projected demand for required special school places in the Lincoln City area indicates the need for an additional 111 places to be made available by 2023. It would not be possible to expand Lincoln St Christopher's School solely on the existing site, as there is insufficient external space to accommodate the required expansion. In order to increase the provision of special school places in Lincoln City and surrounding areas, the required extra special school places can only be developed on an additional site if they are to be in the correct geographical location to meet demand.
LCC are seeking to permanently expand the capacity of the school by the formation of a split school site. A new dedicated primary site with a capacity of 130 pupils would be built on the former Usher Junior School site, Skellingthorpe Road, Lincoln, which is in close proximity of the current St Christopher's School (1.5 miles by road). The current St Christopher's site would then be extensively redeveloped and remodelled to provide specialist secondary age education for 203 pupils. This would increase the school's overall capacity from 200 to a new capacity of 333. The proposed expansion would provide additional teaching, therapeutic and activity space for the children already on roll and enable the school to provide more specialist places for SEND pupils.
If the planning application is approved, it is intended that building of the new primary school would commence in autumn 2021, with a build time of around thirteen months expected. Work to the secondary school would commence in earnest in September 2022 with a whole school completion date for the Lincoln St Christopher's School by September 2024.
The new primary school will comprise 15 classrooms, 4 of which are specifically designed for non-ambulant pupils and each with an area of outside space directly off the classroom. There will be therapy spaces such as sensory and soft play, large hall and a hydrotherapy pool. To support the health offer rooms such as physiotherapy and medical room are also provided. The externals will provide outdoor learning in the form of a sensory garden, horticulture, hard surfaced playing court and large grass playing field for sport. There will also be sufficient onsite parking for staff, visitors and a secure drop off and pick up zone for all school transport.
The secondary school will see the demolition of a very poor unsuitable block of accommodation and it will be replaced by a 2 story new build comprising classroom spaces for both ambulant and non-ambulant pupils, a large main hall with changing facilities and specialist medical room. The schools main entrance will be relocated in the new accommodation and staff facilities provided on the first floor. Some remodelling will also take place in one of the existing blocks to provide 2 suitable sized classrooms and a physiotherapy space. Externally there will be a dedicated hard sports court, sensory and horticulture areas. The site will be enhanced to provide adequate staff parking and secure pick up and drop off facilities for all school transport.
The new facilities will present excellent opportunities to improve the school overall that would benefit the children already on roll as well as provide additional accommodation for increasing pupil numbers. It will also reduce the potential need for temporary classrooms and provide flexibility in the way the accommodation is used to deliver the curriculum.
At present, the school is designed to meet the need of children and young people with moderate and severe learning difficulties. Once the capital investment programme is complete, the school will be able to meet a much wider range of needs, including those with physical disabilities and profound and multiple learning disabilities with improved facilities. In order to meet this wider range of need, the school will benefit from classrooms specifically designed to meet the needs of those with more complex disabilities, the addition of specialist teaching spaces to enable students to access a broader curriculum and enhanced external spaces for all pupils.
The expansion of provision, through the proposed building works, will immensely benefit pupils. The additional classroom spaces and learning areas will support both curriculum based and extra-curricular delivery allowing us to provide our learners with a wider range of learning opportunities in a more bespoke and personalised way. The inclusion of more specialist facilities and resources will allow the school to support a wider range of special educational needs and disabilities therefore allowing us to support more children within the locality.
Pupils will be educated in their own community, as close to home as possible which in turn will support improved home/school communication and partnership. The school will continue to work within its locality, sharing expertise and best practice. Workforce development will continue to be central to strategy’s success and staff development to meet all needs will be a priority.
Programme Manager, Special Schools Strategy
Children's Services, Lincolnshire County Council