The Corporate Director – Education and Family Support sought approval to commence a statutory consultation process to make regulated alterations to Heronsbridge Special School, by increasing the number of pupils for whom the school makes provision to 300, and for its relocation from its current location to Island Farm, Bridgend. He informed Cabinet that the proposed new school would open from the beginning of the autumn term 2025 (i.e., September 2025).
He reported that Cabinet at its meeting in December 2020 gave approval to a new-build for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Severe Learning Difficulties and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties plus residential provision, replacing the existing Heronsbridge Special School and the Pencoed College sites for the development of a privately owned site at Island Farm. Council in December 2020 gave approval to include funding in the capital programme to deal with payments associated with securing the land. He informed Cabinet that in March 2021, Ministerial approval was received in respect of the Strategic Outline Business Case for a replacement 300-place Heronsbridge Special School, plus residential provision and a feasibility study was progressed to consider the development of the school on privately owned land at Island Farm.
He also informed Cabinet of the significant issues regarding the size of teaching and non-teaching spaces, storage and circulation space is extremely poor, and given the needs of the learners, this causes issues in managing safe movement around the school. He stated that the overall condition of the school is poor, exhibiting major defects and/or not operating as intended, with a backlog of maintenance costs, assessed in October 2020 at £1,248,200.
The Corporate Director – Education and Family Support reported that the outline business case for the school received Ministerial approval in November 2021 and he highlighted the qualitative benefits of an enlarged Heronsbridge Special School which would be designed on guidelines for special schools. He stated that a site fit feasibility study had been commissioned which demonstrated that the school can be developed on the site, although some ecology mitigation would be required. He informed Cabinet that the Corporate Landlord Department is in the process of acquiring the Island Farm site for the proposed school, however, should the proposal to relocate the school to that site not proceed, there would be limited financial risk based upon the likely future onward sales value. He stated that the number of existing pupils on roll is 236 and to increase the number of pupils to make provision to 300, the School Organisation Code requires that a consultation exercise with the school governing body, staff, parents, pupils and interested parties is undertaken, which is the first step in the statutory process.
The Corporate Director – Education and Family Support informed Cabinet of the financial implications of the proposal, in that £25m had been allocated within the capital budget, however contractor inflation and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit may have an impact on scheme costs.
The Cabinet Education and Regeneration in commending the proposal stated that it was the ambition to provide a new school for Heronsbridge, which would be widely recognised as the best special school with the best facilities in Wales. A further ambition could be to have a training facility to train teachers and teaching assistants for special schools. He stressed the importance of retaining the façade of the current school, which would result in a brownfield site with development potential near the town centre. The Cabinet Member Social Services and Early Help thanked the officers in developing an immense piece of work for consultation and stressed the importance of future proofing the school and to have a 21st century school given the rise in the number of pupils with additional learning needs and ASD.
The Leader stated that the school had been applauded for its excellent work and for the support the school has, however it does not have the best facilities. He stated that it was an ambition to develop the best special school facilities in Wales and he looked forward to people taking part in the consultation, for which he knew the governing body is excited by the proposals. He also stated that he was especially proud that an item on the school modernisation programme is the last public item on the agenda as Leader of the Council in this term.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet approved the commencement of a statutory consultation process to make the following regulated alterations to Heronsbridge Special School:
· to increase the number of pupils for whom the school makes provision to 300; and
· to relocate the school from its current location at Ewenny Road, Bridgend to Island Farm, Bridgend. The proposed new school would open from the beginning of the autumn term 2025 (i.e., September 2025).