A COUNCIL criticised by families of children with special needs has committed to £15m worth of improvements.

Responding to concerns raised by parents in today's Oxford Mail, who feel their children have been let down by the special needs education system, the council admitted there is a 'great deal of work to do' but was confident of change.

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In December the council’s cabinet approved a £15m investment to create 300 new places for vulnerable learners, and including a major rebuild for asbestos-hit Northfield School in Blackbird Leys.

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During 2018 the county council conducted a review of its special educational needs provision, in light of the large increases in the numbers of children with such needs entering the educational system.

The rebuild of Northfield School will be accompanied by a new school at Bloxham Grove in North Oxfordshire, due to open in 2020, and at Valley Park in Didcot, which is aiming for opening in 2023.

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Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, the council's cabinet member for education and cultural services, said: "Our simple aim is to invest in and develop a good quality local provision which meets the needs of young people with SEND in Oxfordshire.

"We want pupils in the right provision at the right place, with a local first approach, to ensure children’s needs are at the core of planning.

"We want to reduce the numbers of children who are currently being educated out of the county."

She said the council also wants to reduce reliance on specialist places in private schools.

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Last year a report revealed that it was spending £14m this academic year alone to pay for 227 pupils to attend private special schools, 'because of insufficient places in the maintained sector.'

Mrs Lindsay-Gale said the council's plan should unlock £7m worth of savings within six years, while delivering better education.

She highlighted how the council has seen a 77 per cent spike in the number of requests for education and health care needs assessments since 2013, as a result of reformed legislation which increased the age range of those eligible.

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The councillor added: "The school age population is rising and is forecast to continue to do so due to proposed large scale housing growth together with an increase in numbers of children being diagnosed with SEND.

"While our plans are ambitious and wide-ranging we should stress that they will not deliver changes overnight, there is a great deal of work to do.”

Special needs places in the pipeline

Northfield School in Oxford has recently seen a £600,000 investment to deal with serious structural issues, which prompted safety concerns and temporary closure last year.

The school, which was recently rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted, will now see a larger investment of £9.5m to rebuild and expand its pupil population to 100.

In addition to the 300 places to be created at three new special schools, mentioned above, 68 places will be created via new resource bases located in mainstream schools.

These would be at Aureus Primary School in Didcot, Aureus Secondary School in Didcot, Banbury (starting at Longford Park but moving to the new Southern Road Primary School), Gagle Brook Primary School in Bicester, a new secondary school on Bicester's Kingsmere estate, Barton Primary School and the planned West Witney Primary School.

The current programme of special school expansions at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage; Bardwell School in Bicester and John Watson School in Wheatley will also continue.

The council said it is also 'looking at other opportunities' to create additional places across the county, to try to prevent children travelling long journeys across the county.