Congleton: 60-place special school given further backing

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

18th Jan 2023 | Local News

No target date has been set for the new educational building.
No target date has been set for the new educational building.

Councillors have backed a funding bid to set up two special free schools in Cheshire East but only after being assured they can withdraw if the costs become excessive.

The council submitted an application to the Department for Education's 'special free school programme for local authorities' in October and has earmarked Cledford House in Middlewich and land on the Giants Wood housing development in Congleton as potential sites for the new schools.

At Monday's meeting of the children and families committee, members were asked to agree to provide indemnity if one or both schemes are successful. This is needed in case of any 'abnormal site development' costs.

But, after hearing earlier at the meeting that the building costs for the Springfield School satellite site at Wilmslow, which is due to open later this year, had doubled from £3m to £6m since it was first agreed in 2021, the committee sought assurances this would not happen in the case of these two special schools.

Director of Education Jacky Forster said, if the schemes were approved by the DfE, Cheshire East could still withdraw the application in the future if there were any unforeseen excessive costs to the council.

But she said the DfE did require the council to agree to provide the indemnity at this stage for the application to go forward.

Councillors Janet Clowes (Wybunbury, Con) and Jos Saunders (Poynton East, Con) both said they had needed that reassurance otherwise they would have voted against it.

Cllr Saunders said: "I would have voted against it because of our experience with the previous item [Springfield satellite site]. Lessons learned etc.

"The assurance is we can change our mind if the costs spiral and I think, for all of us who read the paper on Springfield, I think most of us would want that assurance."

If the application to the DfE is successful, the 60-place Middlewich school would cater for children and young people with needs relating to social, emotional and mental health (SEMH).

The 60-place Congleton school would be for pupils with autism spectrum condition (ASC).

Cledford House, on Long Lane South, in Middlewich, is owned by the council and was previously a school, but in recent years has been used for offices.

The current occupants are due to vacate the building within the next six months.

The site at Giants Wood has not yet been transferred to the council but is identified in the local plan and has been included in a Section 106 agreement with the council for the inclusion of a school.

It will accommodate a one-form entry primary school and a 4-19 special school.

If the council is successful with these applications, the capital required for building would be provided by the DfE.

The impact on the council would be that revenue funding would be required for per place funding, but this will be a lower rate than that currently being applied for independent SEN placements.

Committee chair Kathryn Flavell (Elworth, Lab) said: "This is actually really good news. If it is successful, it's fantastic."

She said it would provide more local places for local children.

"It will help with transport, it will help with external placement costs," said Cllr Flavell. "The savings are phenomenal that we can make from these 120 places, so I'm sure we're hoping this can go through."

The committee agreed to provide indemnity if one or both schemes are successful.

Read more on the news, as first reported on last week.

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