Decision due on plans to move Epinay Business and Enterprise School to site of former South Shields School

Plans to boost provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in South Tyneside are set to take a step forward next week.
South Shields School closed on August 31.South Shields School closed on August 31.
South Shields School closed on August 31.

The council’s cabinet are being asked to agree the relocation of Epinay Business and Enterprise School in Jarrow to the site of the former South Shields School.

Proposals to repurpose the Nevinson Avenue site were revealed earlier this year and prompted by increased demand for SEND places in the borough.

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If approved, the move will secure a future for the South Shields School buildings following the school’s formal closure on August 31.

The secondary school faced an uncertain future after being rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and failing to win an academy sponsor, combined with falling pupil numbers, and the final decision to close the school was made by council bosses last year.

New proposals aim to allow more young people with special needs to attend school in the borough alongside meeting rising demand for specialist places locally.

By moving Epinay School would be able to expand its capacity to 215 pupils, compared to 175 on its current site.

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Epinay’s sixth form, which is located on off-site rented premises, could also be accommodated on the new site.

A report states the site would require some remodelling involving the creation of play areas and a primary provision as well as specialist rooms for children with diverse needs.

The school is also keen to develop a woodland walk, animal centre, NVQ catering training provision and a rebound therapy room.

Later phases of works would see some of the other buildings used for complementary services and a range of options for young adults aged 19-25 with SEND are being explored.

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Cllr Moira Smith, lead member for children, young people and families on the council, said: “We know that we have a rising demand for specialist places in South Tyneside and this site will offer superb opportunities to help to address the shortfall in places for the children and young people who need them and to do more for our 16 – 25 year-olds with complex needs and disabilities.

“These proposals represent an opportunity for Epinay to deliver more efficiently and effectively while pupils and students across all age groups would be able to take advantage of the enhanced facilities.

“It would also result in additional local provision which would reduce the needs for students to travel outside of the borough for their education.”

South Shields School was rebuilt in 2011 under the terms of a £24 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal – a contract that obliges the council to pay towards its upkeep until 2036.

A report to cabinet states the core use of the South Shields School site must be educational with the possibility of community use of some of the facilities.

On PFI issues, it adds the move is affordable, based on financial modelling and “projected increased funding for the school in line with the proposed increase in pupil numbers.”

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According to cabinet papers, a virtual meeting has already been held with Epinay governors, staff, parents, carers and pupils where there was positive support for the potential move.

Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the council will support the school in holding a series of meetings for those affected by the proposed move.

Headteacher at Epinay School, Chris Rue, said: “We’re very excited about the potential opportunities that this will give our children and young people.

“We’re looking forward to working with all of our stakeholders to ensure all children get the very best education they can.

“The fact that we can increase our numbers will also be of good news to families with children with additional needs for future years to come.”

The matter will be discussed by South Tyneside Council’s cabinet on Wednesday, September 9 which will be held remotely at 4pm and broadcast on YouTube.

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