Councillors agree to create new school for autistic children in Harrogate
Aug 22, 2023
The former Woodfield Community Primary School in Bilton.

The former Woodfield Community Primary School in Bilton will become a new special school for children with autism, councillors confirmed today.

North Yorkshire Council’s Conservative-run executive unanimously approved the creation of the school, which will cater for up to 80 students and is set to open in September next year.

The results of a six-week consultation over summer revealed considerable support, with 86% of 105 responses in favour.

The council has pledged a £3.5m investment into creating the school.

The meeting was held this morning at the Civic Centre in Harrogate — the first time a North Yorkshire Council executive meeting has taken place outside of Northallerton.

Michael Harrison, the Conservative councillor for Killinghall, Hampsthwaite and Saltergate, said the council was doing a “wonderful thing” by opening the school, which he said would help meet demand for special educational needs places locally.

Cllr Harrison said:

“Our commitment to education in the area and at that site specifically, and for children with autism, is evidenced in that we are proposing to reopen a school on that site so soon after Woodfield closed.”

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Since 2016, the number of children in North Yorkshire with identified special educational needs and disability and a legally-binding education, health and care plan has increased by more than 110%, leading to a shortage of special school places and numerous children being taught by independent providers.

Independent day sector placements typically cost the public purse up to £70,000 annually and the average cost of a special school placement is about £23,000.

Paul Haslam, the Conservative councillor for Bilton and Nidd Gorge, said he “very much welcomed” the proposals and has already heard from parents interested in sending their children to the new school.

The Woodfield site also includes large playing fields and Cllr Haslam called on the council to allow them to be used by the local community in Bilton.

He said:

“I wondered whether we can consider making the playing fields dual access with separate changing rooms so the community can also have access when it’s not in use by school. 

“It’s more benefit for my area which has a lot of outdoor space but no playing fields. It could also create additional revenue for the school.”