Doomed South Shields School set to be reborn as special needs school and youth training facility

A school site set for closure could reopen to teach children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) under new proposals.

Tuesday, 25th February 2020, 9:53 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 1:07 pm

South Shields School, in Nevison Avenue, will close its doors for good on August 31 following a decision by council bosses last year.The school had been facing an uncertain future after being rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and failing to win an academy sponsor, alongside falling pupil numbers.

The school was re-built in 2011 under the terms of a £24million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal - which commits it to repayments worth £400,000 a year until 2036.

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South Shields School

Next week, town hall chiefs will discuss early proposals to re-purpose the site in a bid to increase places for children and young people with SEND in the borough.

Under the plans, Epinay School in Jarrow could relocate to South Shields and share the site with a training centre for young people between the ages of 19-25.

The changes are subject to consultation with the school community and affected families.

Lead Member for Children, Young People and Adults on the council, Coun Moira Smith, stressed the plans are at a “very early stage.”

“I hope people see that this represents a real opportunity to improve provision for children and young people with special educational needs,” she said.

“In South Tyneside the number of children with Education Health and Care Plans has almost doubled since 2015 and the borough has higher levels of children needing support than nationally.

“We need to ensure that children and young people in South Tyneside have their needs met and are properly supported.”

She added: “We’re at the very start of this journey but we will work with the whole school community at Epinay as we seek to achieve a positive outcome for our children.”

A recent audit of services for pupils with SEND in the borough identified a ‘gap in provision’ to meet demand for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders and social, emotional and mental health needs.

A lack of specialist places in South Tyneside also means some pupils have to go to school outside of the borough – with 49 currently in ‘out of authority provision’.

Despite being one of the largest providers of specialist provision in South Tyneside, Epinay School has reached full capacity.

The planned move to South Shields would allow additional places to be created with transport arrangements expected to continue as normal.

Headteacher at Epinay School, Chris Rue, said: “These discussions are at a very early stage but the potential relocation of the school could be extremely good news for families of children with SEND across the entire borough.

“We know there is rising demand for places for children and young people with special educational needs.

“There is no room for expansion at our current site but by potentially relocating to South Shields, there is an opportunity to both expand and enhance the provision on offer.”

South Tyneside Council retains financial liability for the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract which financed the construction of South Shields School.

Under the terms of the deal, the site must be used for education or community purposes.

South Tyneside Council’s cabinet will discuss the future of the school site on Wednesday March 4 at South Shields Town Hall.

This includes agreeing to “exploratory discussions” with Epinay School around consultation, land transfer issues and potentially adapting the buildings.

Further updates are expected this summer before a final decision is made.

If approved, the earliest the move could take place would be September 2021.