Castle Green special school recently moved into new PFI-built premises. At the same time, the school has reinvented itself in the face of falling roles and changing attitudes to inclusion.
"We realised that the term 'moderate learning difficulties' was becoming meaningless and the school would eventually die," says head teacher Ian Reed. "But we knew we had expertise and experience which we thought we could harness. We held discussions with the local secondary heads group, looking for a niche to assist mainstream students in developing vocational skills."
The result has transformed the agenda at Castle Green. It still has 208 of its own students aged 11-19, including a thriving sixth form of 75. But it is also acting as a learning support unit for Sunderland secondaries.
With funding of pound;159,000 from the DfES Innovations Unit, Castle Green timetabled a range of vocational activities and offered them to mainstream students turned off at key stage 4. Now, in the scheme's second year, around 100 students a week come to Castle Green for courses including catering, construction, and health and beauty. All are taught in groups of six by Castle Green staff, joined by outside contractors.
With demand for places outstripping supply, Ian Reed identifies a new era of co-operation and boundary-blurring between mainstream and special education. "It is no longer necessarily relevant for a student to be based in just one organisation. We support inclusion, but for some students, some of the provision they need might lie outside mainstream."
ONES TO WATCH
The Briarfield Centre a special needs unit in Bristol, moved last September to pound;2 million purpose-built accommodation on a mainstream site
Beaumont special school, Darlington Planned site-share with comprehensive and primary
Woolgrove, Herts Beacon school with purpose-built autism base Crosshill, Lancashire First special school to win technology college status