Special education base could be built on former Sunderland school site

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A former Sunderland school could become a support base for children with special educational needs and disabilities under £1.4million refurbishment plans.

Earlier this year, Sunderland City Council leaders revealed plans to use the former Springwell Dene School to support pupil referral unit (PRU) places in the city.

A PRU unit provides services for pupils who are unable to attend a mainstream school or special schools in the area.

The council’s cabinet has now backed plans to revamp the derelict buildings off Swindon Road which returned to council ownership in April.

City leaders plan to amalgamate three existing PRU units in Sunderland into a single body based at the new site.

Refurbishment works will now go ahead at the school site, including a new sports pitch, revised ICT systems, improved kitchen and dining facilities and seperate entrances for different age groups.

The project will cost £1.068million, with an extra £177,000 needed for ICT systems and £180,000 for fixtures and equipment.

The potential PRU merger – which includes moving provision from the existing Tudor Grove centre to Springwell by September 2019 – will be subject to consultation.

Coun Louise Farthing, Cabinet member for children, learning and skills, said the changes would see the creation of a single management committee for the new centre.

She said: “The benefits of this will also include efficiency in commissioning, consistency in management across all age ranges, the ability to more effectively share resources across all key stages, and effective peer review.”

Sunderland’s PRU is currently organised as three separate provisions including Key Stage 1 (five to seven-year-olds), Key Stage 2 and 3 (seven to 14-year-olds) and Key Stage 4 (14 to 16-year-olds).

Services for younger age groups are provided at the Tudor Grove Centre in Portland Road, while Key Stage 4 is delivered from the Pallion Centre.

If the merger plans are approved, the Tudor Grove site will be declared surplus to educational requirements with an estimated worth of £500,000, a report states.

If the land is sold, the cash will be used to offset costs associated with the refurbishment.

The Springwell Dene site was previously owned by the Ascent Academy Trust.

Building works on the site will be funded from a £600,000 capital grant from Government, with the remaining cash coming the council’s school maintenance pot, developer contributions and prudential borrowing.

Coun John Kelly, Cabinet member for communities and culture, added: “I think it will provide a fantastic service to some of our most vulnerable children in the city.”

The full consultation process on the PRU service merger will start in January 2019 following pre-consultation with Sunderland schools and academies.

Consultation findings are expected to return to council bosses in March for decision.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service