A FORMER youth centre is to be repurposed into a ‘much-needed’ facility which will cater for 40 youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities to reduce costly out-of-borough placements, the Chronicle can reveal.

Plans unveiled this week show Elmhirst Youth Centre, in Worsbrough, will undergo a £1.3m refurbishment ahead of its reopening, which will include a new multi-use games area, interior remodelling, classroom extensions and ramped access.

The Department for Education allocated Barnsley £3.82m for 2022/23 and a further £3.27m for 2023/24 to deliver new SEND places and to improve existing SEND facilities and provision.

A free 25-year lease is set to be agreed as a result, allowing Nexus Multi-Academy Trust to take over the venue for the 2022/23 school year onwards.

Key stages three and four - which refer to ages 11 to 16 - will be targeted due to growing demand for local places and the council’s quest to reduce out-of-borough placements.

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A council report said: “The local authority and its statutory partners will address the fundamental challenges being faced in meeting increasing demand for school places for children and young people.

“To ensure children and young people with SEND have access to the right type of school placement which best meets their needs, that is within their community and is closer to home.

“This includes those who have been categorised as having needs relating to social, emotional and mental health; autism and/or speech, language and communication needs.

“The former youth centre is a council asset and it is proposed that the Nexus MAT will be granted a new lease of up to 25 years, at nil rent, for this property, after its conversion.

“Doing this will help to facilitate the provision of education for pupils with SEND at the former youth centre site.

“Based on current need and consultations for school places, the development of these places will ensure that these children and young people are not placed in independent, high-cost special school settings or out of borough.

“This is because continual long-term dependence on such provision is not financially or otherwise favourable as a long-term sustainable option when viewed against steadily rising increase in needs for these cohorts of children and young people.”

According to the report, £700,000 will be allocated for its refurbishment and associated works, with £600,000 set aside for an extension.

The total number of out-of-borough placements allocated by the council rose to 220 in 2020 at a cost of £11.23m, from 164 costing £6.74m in 2018/19.

Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock raised the issue in Parliament, asking the government what they are doing on to improve support and education, and how they will address the crisis local councils are facing in funding.

“As a former teacher, I have seen first-hand the value of proper support for children with special educational needs,” she told the Chronicle.

“As an MP I have heard countless stories of frustration from parents, who only want the best for their children, but can’t find a nursery or school place for them to get the support they need.

“Without proper funding from government, these children are being let down.

“More must be done to ensure they get the support they need.”