Lancaster in line for new school for children with emotional and mental health difficulties

A new primary school is set to be created in Lancaster for children with social, emotional and mental health needs.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 1:18 pm

The facility - to be based at the former Firbank Children's Centre on Firbank Road - would be the first of its kind in North Lancashire, if it is ultimately approved.

It is hoped that it would benefit the 41 youngsters between the ages of five and 11 who live in the north of the region and currently attend independent or non-maintained special schools.

Lancashire County Council’s cabinet has given the go-ahead to starting the process of establishing the school, which would have to be a free school academy under government rules.

Firbank Children's Centre, on Firbank Road, has been proposed as the site for a new special school. A private nursery currently operating at the location would move to a separate annex under the plans (image: Google).

The main rooms of the children's centre building are currently occupied by a private nursery, which would relocate to an annex as part of the plans, cabinet members were told.

The nursery and the school would have separate entrances and external play areas - and a link corridor between the two parts of the building would not be used.

County Cllr Charlie Edwards - who represents the Morecambe South division and is also the cabinet member for highways and transport - told the recent meeting at which the plans were put in motion that it was “terrible” that North Lancashire was currently without the kind of specialist provision that the new facility will provide.

“I think the big issue that you've got with a lot of these [children] is that if you don't get them at that primary school age, then they can be lost forever - so it's absolutely vitally important for the north of the county…that we do have this investment.

“Forty-one children…attend schools nowhere near Lancaster and Morecambe - it’s daunting, it’s not a great position to be in [and] it's not the best way to grow up. The best way to grow up is [with] a school on your doorstep - and so this is such a massive improvement in the opportunities for kids who really need our support,” County Cllr Edwards said.

The proposal will not affect Castle View Primary School, which is on the same site as the children's centre, but in a building of its own. That school is due to become an academy from the start of July, at which point it will have its own defined site and external area.

It costs the county council £1.7m per year to fund the education of those primary-age children in North Lancashire who need specialist support and are currently reliant on independent providers - that is around £1m more than would be the case if they had places at a maintained special school.

The new school is expected to be able to accommodate up to 52 pupils across six main classrooms and two other rooms for youngsters who require smaller teaching groups.

Under the government-mandated process for establishing a new school, the county council is responsible for funding any building work and providing the site. The authority also has to invite proposals from potential sponsors, one of which will be chosen to operate the facility once it opens.

While County Hall can make a recommendation as to the proposal which should be accepted, it is the Education Secretary who will make the final decision on behalf of the government.

North Lancashire is also without any secondary-age, state-funded special schools for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. The 54 pupils of that age who require such facilities are also currently being accommodated in the independent sector at an annual cost to the county council of £2.3m.

Across Lancashire, there are a total of six state-backed special schools for children in that category - four at secondary level and two catering for primary-age pupils.