South Shields School, in Nevinson Avenue, closed its doors last year after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2017 and failed to win an academy sponsor, alongside falling pupil numbers.
Despite opposition from parents and teachers and improved standards, South Tyneside Council pressed ahead with the closure – leaving questions about the future of the building.
The school was rebuilt in 2011 under the terms of a £24 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal – which commits it to repayments every year until 2036.
This included works to redesign two thirds of the school building and grounds to make them suitable for young people with special needs, with the relocation also allowing a gradual increase of pupils from 170 to a maximum of 215 over the next five years.
Following consultation, South Tyneside Council’s ruling cabinet approved the plans on Wednesday (July 14), which could see pupils move into the new facility next year.
Children with a wider range of special educational needs are expected to be catered for by Epinay on the new site.
In addition, the move aims to reduce the amount of out-of-area placements, allowing more children to receive education in South Tyneside instead of having to travel to neighbouring authorities.
A report prepared for decision-makers this week highlighted that consultation on the proposals with parents, staff and other schools was positive.
And the proposals also struck a chord with South Tyneside Council’s cabinet, with several members praising the move to re-designate, enlarge and relocate Epinay Business and Enterprise School.
Councillor Anne Hetherington, cabinet member for independence and wellbeing, welcomed the report and said the proposals would deliver a “much-needed facility for the whole of South Tyneside.”
Councillor Jim Foreman, cabinet member for housing and transport, welcomed the expected reduction of out-of-area placements and the “savings that would be made by bringing our children back in borough.”
Councillor Joan Atkinson, deputy leader of the council, praised the “dedication” of staff at Epinay and said she was “sure the parents and the whole school community will be looking forward to that [new] school.”
And councillor Ernest Gibson, cabinet member for area management and community safety, added it was “absolutely fantastic that the school [building] is going to be utilised again.”
“It’s within my ward and I welcome it, it was a fantastic facility in the first place and has a lot going for it and it’s a great location,” he said.
According to a cabinet report, the estimated cost of the project to design and model the site for Epinay is around £1.7 million, which will be funded from the council’s capital programme.
It adds that the trust/governing body of the school will lease the accommodation from the council at a “peppercorn rent” with the lease term being 125 years.
The report goes on to say: “As consideration for the grant of the lease the site at Clervaux Terrace, vacated by Epinay School, will transfer to the ownership of the council.
“The school will pay a service charge, which will initially comprise a contribution towards the PFI payment and which will cover the cost of services and utilities provided by the PFI provider.
“The funding to pay these costs will be found from within Epinay School’s revenue budget.”
Epinay Business and Enterprise School provides education for children and young people aged 5-18 who have an education, health and care plan which includes a range of additional needs.
This ranges from learning difficulties, visual impairment and autistic spectrum disorder to speech, language and communication issues.
Following cabinet approval and completion of works, pupils from Epinay are expected to move to the new school site from April 2022.