Norfolk County Council to borrow £120m to build four new special schools
A "big decision" has been made for Norfolk County Council to borrow £120m to build up to four new schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
County Hall’s policy and resources committee today agreed the investment, which will also develop more outreach to support children in mainstream schools - known as specialist resource bases.
Councillors said the investment would stop children and young people from having to be ferried around the county and would save millions of pounds in travel costs.
Due to a shortage of school places, some 300 SEND pupils are currently educated at independent schools in Norfolk or other local authorities.
Paying for that transport is costing the council £13.6m a year and the committee approved an initial investment of £4.8m this year to start work.
While the investment got cross-party, unanimous approval, there were political swipes during the debate - centred in part on the decision to close Great Yarmouth’s Alderman Swindell School.
Labour had campaigned with parents to keep the school open, which led to their Great Yarmouth county councillor Mick Castle leaving the party to become an independent.
Mr Castle had backed the Conservative proposal to shut it and build a new special school on the site.
And Conservative Stuart Dark, chairman of the council’s children’s services committee, questioned why the former Labour/Liberal Democrat alliance did not tackle the issue of the high transport costs and lack of places during their stint in charge at County Hall.
He said: “I think a very fair question people could ask is what was Norfolk County Council’s old political leadership doing up to this point.”
Mr Dark said it showed why the council wanted to close Alderman Swindell - to provide 48 extra specialist places in Great Yarmouth.
But Labour group leader Steve Morphew said his party had never opposed the creation of extra places, but had backed the community who wanted to retain a “much loved school”.
He added his party had tabled a budget amendment in February last year for extra investment in special needs education which was not supported by the controlling Conservatives.
Lib Dem Edward Maxfield said he was concerned spending so much money on special schools could create a scenario where children were placed in those schools for financial reasons, rather than because of their needs.
That concern was branded as “ridiculous” by Conservative Bill Borrett.
In total, 500 extra school places will be created, with a 100 place school in North Norfolk likely to be the second project after the one in Great Yarmouth.