A NEW centre which will provide a much-needed education setting for youngsters with special needs aged between five and eight is set to open in the autumn, it was revealed this week.

Following a previous decision made by Barnsley Council’s ruling cabinet members, approval was given for the demolition of the former Stairfoot Family Centre in order to create a new facility to accommodate up to 15 children.

A key element of the local authority’s ‘SEND Strategy’ was a statutory evaluation of the sufficiency of education places and how the council and its partners would address the ‘fundamental challenges’ being faced in meeting increasing demand for school places from children and young people with SEND, within the available financial resources.

It was announced on Tuesday that the council will develop and commission provision on site at Hunningley Primary School, a council-owned site which previously operated as Stairfoot Family Centre.

The 15 additional places will be created for children who have been diagnosed with SEND communication issues as well as autism or social, emotional and mental health needs.

Executive director of children’s services, Carly Speechley, said: “This will enable us to comply with our statutory responsibilities in ensuring pupils with SEND are accommodated in facilities which support access to an appropriate specialist curriculum, with effect from the beginning of the autumn term this year.

“Through investing in local mainstream and specialist provision and in maintaining an arrangement with a local provider, the new facility will enable the educational needs of this group of young children to be met closer to their home and families.

“It will make help secure better outcomes for pupils with SEND.”

Discussions are currently taking place with a multi-academy trust (MAT) through which the additional school places will be commissioned.

The total cost for the project will be £452,798 and it will be funded from the £4.7m pot which was secured in capital funding.

The council was reported to have accumulated an £11m deficit in its SEND budget, with the potential to rise to more than £36m by the end of the financial year.

A ‘significant cost driver’ was the number of youngsters with school places outside of the borough - it was revealed last year that 220 children and young people from Barnsley have an out-of-borough school place, at a total cost of £11.2m.

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

“Steps will now be taken to inform parents and carers of the pupils who have been identified as the first cohort to access the Hunningley specialist provision, of the availability of placements and when the unit will be opened.”

Coun Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, said: “We are committed to making Barnsley the place of possibilities for all our children and young people and we understand the importance of offering a diverse range of learning environments. for them to be able to fulfil their potential.

“High-quality alternative provision plays a crucial role in maintaining the engagement of children and young individuals in their learning journey.”