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Cross-party support for call to build new SEND school in Fenland, Cambridgeshire



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Calls to consider building a new school for children with special educational needs and disabilities in Fenland have received cross party support.

Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said she was happy to support the motion, but said there should still be a focus on keeping children in mainstream schools.
Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said she was happy to support the motion, but said there should still be a focus on keeping children in mainstream schools.

Councillor Sam Hoy (Con, Wisbech East) had asked for a new specialist school to be considered by Cambridgeshire County Council due to the high number of children needing places.

Cllr Hoy also asked at a full council meeting earlier today (Tuesday, May 10) for the authority to reconsider its guidelines setting out how long children could spend travelling to school.

She told the meeting that many children with special educational needs and disabilities in Fenland are being sent to schools elsewhere in the county, resulting in long journey times.

Cllr Hoy highlighted that the council guidelines say travel to school for a primary age child should be a maximum of 45 minutes and for a secondary age child it should be a maximum of 75 minutes.

She said there have been cases of the guideline times being exceeded. Cllr Hoy added that she was not blaming anyone for the journey times, but said it now needed to be corrected.

Presenting her motion, she said: “We all may know that travel can be a massive trigger for neurodivergent children and that is made much worse by longer journey times.

“If you have got something that is already a trigger for you and is already going to cause anxiety, having to have that for an even longer period of time is going to heighten that anxiety.

“The first thing this motion is doing is asking the committee to re-look at this policy, have a think again, is there something we can do differently, are we able to recognise the additional needs of children with SEND and make an exception for them in these circumstances.

“Secondly the motion also calls on the committee to look at an additional special school in Fenland.

“The reason for this is there are double the amount of children with special educational needs needing a school place in Fenland than any other district. I think the number that came to committee was 35 average in most districts and it was 76 in Fenland, so the need is clearly there.”

Cllr Hoy said she felt the council was “failing children with additional needs in Fenland”.

“Everyday parents are naming schools on their education healthcare plans that we just are not able to provide and don’t appear to be making any plans to provide,” she said, adding: “It’s not just me saying this, look at the recent case where the council was fined by the ombudsman for leaving a vulnerable boy without education.

“There are real problems that we need to address. 75 children is too many, if this was in Cambridge city the school would have been built yesterday, and I think it urgently needs to be looked at to be built.”

Cllr Hoy told the meeting that she would be in favour of expanding the existing SEND school in Wisbech, but said she did not think this would solve all of the issues.

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe (Lab, Cherry Hinton), the chair of the children and young people committee, said the county council is “actively looking” into a new SEND school in the Fenland district and would be applying for government funding to cover the capital costs for it.

Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said she was happy to support Cllr Hoy’s motion, but said there should still be a focus on keeping children in mainstream schools.

She said: “I do think it is important that we look at the way mainstream schools are responding to children with SEND, as much part of this issue as the fact that children are being driven long distances around the county.

“I think it is really important that we need to reduce the length of journeys, that is important for the children, for their families, for the climate, for the council’s budget, for a whole variety of different reasons.

“But a much better way of making sure those children are better provided for is to make sure mainstream schools are holding as many of those children as they possibly can and supporting them within the mainstream school environment.

“Because where that is possible those children continue to be part of the community in which they live, they have friends nearby, all of those things are also enormously important.”

Cllr Lorna Dupré (Lib Dem, Sutton) said the council needed to be careful working on the presumption that every child could get good quality education in a mainstream school.

She told the meeting there can be cases where it is not possible, and said she hoped it would be kept in mind that appropriate provision should be made to meet the needs of the child.

When put to a vote the motion received unanimous support from councillors.



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