Plans to create four new specialist centres for secondary school pupils with autism and social communication difficulties have been backed by councillors.
The county currently already offers a number of ‘bases’ to support children with ‘speech language and communication needs’ (SLCN), attached to secondary schools.
But those bases, say council officers, cannot meet the needs of pupils with broader and more complex needs, such as autism and social communication difficulties.
Increasing numbers of those children, they say, are being placed in independent specialist provision or – ‘unnecessarily’ – in special schools.
And at the same time two out of every three places available (62 per cent) in the county’s existing SLCN ‘bases’ are unfilled.
Now education officials in Hertfordshire have drawn up plans for four new ‘specialist resource provisions’ (SRPs), that would be attached to secondary schools.
The new SRPs would replace existing SLCN provision and would be designed to provide ‘short and appropriate intervention’ – blending the academic demands of a mainstream school and the necessary support.
And estimates suggest they could save the couty council around £480,000 a year – by cutting the number of children who need to be educated out of the county.
On Monday (December 14) the proposals were backed by a meeting of the county council’s cabinet.
And specific plans for four secondary school SRPs – in Bushey, Hemel Hempstead, Hitchin and Bishop’s Stortford – will now go out for public consultation.
Outlining the need for the SRPs, a report to the cabinet said: “The children with this broader and more complex need have difficulties with communication, social relationships and managing a busy school environment.
“This often leads to anxiety and disengagement or inappropriate coping strategies including ‘shutting down’.
“These young people need access to a mainstream curriculum and academic challenge, balanced with a safe space to be, where work can be done to support self-regulation, build resilience and protect emotional wellbeing.”
According to the plans it is hoped that SRPs would be opened at Bushey Meads School, in Bushey, at Longdean School, in Hemel Hepstead, and at the Priory School, in Hitchin, in September 2022.
And one year later a further SRP would be opened at the new Avanti Schools Trust school, planned for Bishops Stortford.
According to the report, in a further second phase the council hopes to develop a further eight SRPs in primary schools, with each providing places for up to 12 children would also open from 2023.
According to the plans public consultation on the secondary phase could start in January – with final decisions reached by the county council and the Regional Schools Commissioner by July (2021).
Existing SLCN secodary provision is based at Longdean School, in Dacorum, and at Onslow St Audrey’s, in Welwyn Hatfield.
At Longdean School, as of November, just eight of the 18 places were filled. And at Onslow St Audrey’s just six out of the 14 places were taken.