Gary Smith says new special needs strategy is overdue

Essex County Standard: Head teacher Gary Smith Head teacher Gary Smith

THE headteacher of an oversubscribed special school has described the provision of new special needs schools as long overdue.

Essex County Council has launched a five-year action plan to help boost provisions and attainment levels for children and young people with special needs.

The strategy, unveiled last week, includes proposals for four new special needs schools in the county as well as eight specialist centres at four mainstream primary and four mainstream secondary schools.

The announcement has been welcomed by Gary Smith, headteacher of Market Field School, in Elmstead Market, which cares for children with moderate learning difficulties.

He, along with other headteachers of special needs schools, has been involved in developing the new strategy.

He said the provision of specialist teaching places was long overdue.

He added: “It is common sense really, but it is about time.

“When some special schools were closed in the Nineties, my response was you are denying parents choice’. It is hard enough for parents coming to terms with the fact their child needs extra help.

“Then, having looked at a special school and liked what you saw, they were then told you can’t go there, That’s horrendous.

“Parents are saddened, desperate, confused and angry.

“I’ve had people come to us after they have got a place and break down because they are so happy.

The emotions are incredible.”

Market Field School was originally due to take 60 children when it opened in 1976.

But the school, which has been rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, now has 187 pupils.

About 30 pupils joined Market Field School in 1999 when the Leas special school in Clacton closed.

The closure was part of a Government strategy for special schools to cater specifically for children with severe learning difficulties.

It wanted students with moderate learning difficulties to be integrated into mainstream schools.

The ongoing demand meant the school now has seven relocatable classrooms and storage sheds in the playground – nicknamed Shed City.

The school lobbied for better facilities and after eight years was awarded £10million to pay for a new building which can cope with 200 children.

It will be started this summer and is due to be completed by September next year.

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