A COUNCIL facing spiralling costs to educate children with special educational needs and disabilities is considering sweeping changes to enable more pupils to be educated in their local area and save up to £650,000 a year.

North Yorkshire County Council is set to launch a public consultation over extending residential provision at Welburn Hall special school, near Kirkbymoorside, which is forecast to face a deficit of £1.5 million by March.

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The proposal could see pupils aged eight to 19 with learning disabilities and speech, language and communication needs, rather than only sixth-formers, offered accommodation for up to seven nights a week during term times.

Officers have warned that such a move would result in a smaller number of residential places for the most complex and care-led needs at Welburn Hall, which is one of only two such schools in the county.

The move comes some four years after a government review led by Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children at the National Children's Bureau, concluded many youngsters in residential special schools and colleges could be educated in their local communities if better support was available.

It also follows the council highlighting how a shortage in funding for special educational needs and disabled pupils had, until the current financial year, seen funding being top sliced from the budgets of mainstream schools to cover costs.

A report to senior officers and executive members states the authority's two special schools currently offer four nights a week residential provision.

But the residential offer at Welburn Hall is only offered as part of the sixth-form curriculum to promote independence skills and preparation for adulthood.

The report states with placements being based on assessed care and educational needs, the school is set to see a sharp decrease in sixth-form placements creating significant implications for the school budget.

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Officers said analysis had revealed how independent and out of county residential placements cost £4.7 million annually, and that further pressure continues to develop within this budget due to the volume of children with SEND increasing".

The average cost per pupil for each out of county or independent provider placement is £186,958.

In addition officers found the majority of youngsters considered suitable for Welburn require 38-week, full-term boarding as a result of their care needs, rather than the current four-day residential offer.

The report states: "As a result of this proposed offer, benefits would include more young people with these needs being able to be educated and grow up in their local area and a decrease in demand for high cost independent and out of county residential placements."

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