Lancaster special school's future set to be decided - and you can have your say

A consultation is set to begin into the future of a special school in Lancaster, amid plans to transfer it to the independent sector.

Sunday, 17th January 2021, 6:29 pm
Updated Sunday, 17th January 2021, 6:32 pm

It is the second time in the space of a year that views have been sought about the best way of continuing to provide education at Wennington Hall School, which is for 11-16-year-olds with social, emotional and mental health problems.

The part-residential facility on Lodge Lane has capacity for 80 pupils, but there are currently just 36 on its roll – and it is rated inadequate by the schools regulator.

Lancashire County Council, which runs the school, started the first part of a consultation process last January, but abandoned it early in the summer in recognition of the difficulty of finding a new operator as the pandemic took hold.

Wennington Hall School (image: Wennington Hall School/Lancashire County Council)

The authority finally advertised the opportunity for a third party to take over the school in October 2020 – and a decision on the successful bidder is now due to be made in April this year.

However, that will be subject to the outcome of a fresh consultation which now has to be run for a period of six weeks.

County Hall plans to discontinue the maintained status of the school four years after it was put into special measures by OFSTED.

That move prompted the Department for Education to issue an order for it to be converted into an academy, independent of local authority control – but no sponsor could be found.

At a cabinet meeting where approval was given for the new consultation, cabinet member for schools Phillippa Williamson said that Wennington Hall was also facing financial difficulties.

“The school has a cumulative deficit of over £1m – this is due to higher staffing levels, so pupils are properly safeguarded and additional transport costs due to [there being] fewer residential placements.

“That deficit is forecast to rise by £1m per year if we don’t take any further action,” County Cllr Williamson explained.

Under government rules, the existing deficit will remain with the county council upon transfer of the school.

Pupils numbers have plummeted since 2016 and just seven of the total 36 pupils are currently resident at the school, in spite of there being room for 20 boarders.

Negotiations with bidders will focus on achieving several aims – including the provision of education for the young people on roll from 1st September 2021, either at Wennington Hall School itself or another Department for Education-registered site, which would deliver improved education provision and not entail a greater travel requirement than to the current site.

In all circumstances, the Wennington Hall School site must be used for specialist education provision and/or children’s social care provision for a minimum of seven years from the point of transfer.