Drop in roll could see school close

16th May 2008 at 01:00
An award-winning special school in Aberdeen for youngsters with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties could close because of a drop in the number of referrals from cash-strapped local authorities
An award-winning special school in Aberdeen for youngsters with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties could close because of a drop in the number of referrals from cash-strapped local authorities.

Hopes remain that independent Oakbank School could re-open in new and refurbished premises next year, but its 18 residential pupils face being moved to other places by the end of the summer break.

Jane Arrowsmith, principal, said it was a "tough time" for pupils, who have very complex needs and come from all over Scotland, and its 95 staff. She stressed that closure was not confirmed and could not say when a final decision would be made. "We will be working really hard to ensure that any move to other residential provision is done as smoothly as possible."

The TESS reported in February that fears had emerged for the future of several special schools, following a controversial decision by Aberdeen City Council to stop referring pupils with complex needs to schools outwith the authority's control. Oakbank is funded entirely by local authorities which refer pupils to it.

Mrs Arrowsmith gave several reasons for school governors having proposed closure, including changing trends in the residential sector in the past year and the need for a more individualised approach. Keeping children on the site as building went on around them "would not be helpful to youngsters who benefit from routine and structure".

Oakbank also experienced a setback this month when housing developer Barratt pulled out of a deal worth several million pounds to buy land owned by the school, although Mrs Arrowsmith believes a number of other developers are interested in the site.

The school was at the centre of a political row earlier this month when four councillors from the city council's Liberal Democrat-SNP administration resigned from its board amid concerns about finances and the falling roll, which has been as high as 30.

But Mrs Arrowsmith believes Oakbank could re-emerge as a sector leader, having previously won accolades including the Scottish Qualifications Authority's Centre of the Year Award in 2004.

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