Harrogate autism school could save £4m a year
Aug 16, 2023
Woodfield Community Primary School in Harrogate, which is at risk of closure.
Woodfield Community Primary School before it closed.

A proposal to convert a former Harrogate primary school into a secondary school for 80 autistic children could save up to £4 million over five years, it has emerged.

North Yorkshire Council’s ruling executive will next week discuss the findings of a six-week consultation into proposals to spend £3.5 million repurposing Woodfield Community Primary School.

A report on the consultation, published before the meeting, revealed considerable support for the scheme, with 86 per cent of 105 responses in favour.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Councillor Paul Haslam, a Conservative who represents Bilton and Nidd Gorge, said the proposal was a good outcome.

He said:

“The community was severely disappointed when the primary school closed, however we are delighted a new school will be here to provide provision for children with special educational needs.

“It’s a great green location with good air quality and facilities and as the primary school had 50 per cent special needs pupils, the area is used to providing that type of care.”

Special needs rocketing

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 per cent, leading to a shortage of special school places and numerous children being taught by independent providers.

As 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.

The council is therefore forecasting savings of up to £4 million over the first five years of the new school.

Woodfield School

Woodfield school closed in December.

Woodfield school closed at the end of last year, with the council claiming it had “exhausted all options” after years of falling pupil numbers and an inadequate Ofsted rating. It is hoped the new school will open in September next year.

Numerous consultation respondents said the specialist school was “desperately” needed in the area, with one parent highlighting how their child had to travel to Darlington for autism provision.

Respondents said many children with autism failed to do as well as they could because they were not in the correct setting to flourish.

A headteacher of a local primary school, who is not named, told the consultation:

“This is very good news indeed, especially when we consider the number of pupils attending private placements alongside the skyrocketing levels of need. It is very good to feel heard by the local authority.”

Some respondents questioned whether the funding should have been focused on improving or extending other specialist schools, including Springwater School in Starbeck and the Forest School in Knaresborough, with one claiming it was “too little too late for the academic autistic community”.

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