Agenda item

Mounton House Special School: Proposed Closure - Will McLean, Chief Officer, Children and Young People


The Chief Officer, Children and Young People attended the meeting to address our concerns regarding the proposed closure of Mounton House Special School.


It was explained that this was a decision not taken lightly and background information was provided that the school had originally been set up to serve the needs of the whole of Gwent for one section of Additional Learning Needs (ALN).  It was explained that there is a significant cost attached to the running of the school that effectively means that other children who need support cannot be supported.  The costs and numbers of pupils were shared. The good work of the school staff was recognised.


The school provides a service to other authorities.  The pupils supported there have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) and are boys of 11 and over.  It was explained that SEBD accounts for the 4th highest level of ALN, the most prevalent being Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).    The need to support a broader group of pupils was emphasised.


It was explained that the ALN Review last year suggested using the school as a hub but the original costings have since been significantly upgraded and the funding is now unavailable. 


The Committee was advised that a petition was presented to Council in support of the school remaining open.


A Member agreed reluctantly with the proposal in financial terms whilst acknowledging the good work carried out over the years.  The Chief Officer assured that, if the proposal was agreed, the necessary steps would be taken to secure the right level of support and provision going forward for each pupil.


A Member referred to the availability of prudential borrowing and supported the broadening of provision as proposed in the ALN review and urged officers to rethink. It was responded that broadening provision/extending services and prudential borrowing has been considered but once the £6.4m cost was identified, it was suggested that the scheme wouldn’t self-finance and the revenue tail would be too big. 


A Member stated that there has previously been strong arguments for option 3 to expand provision to age 3-19 mixed gender, ASD and SEBD and that financial savings are possible by increasing out of county admissions and to address the growing demand in county. 


In response to a question about school categorisation, it was confirmed that it was right to draw attention to the improved status of Yellow.  The Chief Officer explained that following the school in category Red, some other counties increased use of their own provision which created uncertainty.  It was also explained that it was not possible for a child to be brought back as this would be too disruptive.  The suggestion of growing in county placement would create a shift in costs and increased transport costs.


A Member of the public asked what would happen to the children if the school closes and commented that this should be the first consideration.  In response, the timeline was explained and during this time, detailed plans will be made for the pupils to be most appropriately placed.


A Committee Member expressed concern about the capacity for disruption if placed in mainstream and sought assurance that the pupils will be appropriately placed and supported.  It was explained that these most vulnerable pupils are statemented and will not be placed in mainstream.


A member of the public expressed the importance of pupils being able to access the curriculum suitable to their needs and commended the value of the outreach work provided by the school to support mainstream schools


A Member did not support the alternative proposal to extend provision, age range etc. commenting that it would cause disruption to vulnerable pupils.


The Chair declared an interest as previous Chair of Governors at the school and expressed his wish that the process is exhaustive and not based completely on funding. 


The Chief Officer was thanked for his input to the meeting.