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Consultation Response to Increase Pupil Numbers at Site 2

Background and Rationale for Thomas Bewick School

The Trustees of Prosper Learning Trust and the Local Advisory Committee of Thomas Bewick School are consulting on the creation of additional places for Thomas Bewick School to meet immediate and longer term need for pupils with autism from September 2023.  Following discussions with the Local Authority regarding the need for additional autism places across the City, the recommendation is to achieve this through further expansion of accommodation available at the school’s site on West Denton Way.  

Prosper Learning Trust is committed to working with Newcastle City Council to ensure there are sufficient special school places for pupils whose needs mean they require more targeted or intensive support, or tailored educational provision.  This consultation is focused on the immediate and future need for places in the early years and primary phases of specialist provision for children with autism.  Thomas Bewick School is the main specialist provision in the city for these learners.  The early years provision for pupils will continue to be delivered at the school’s site based at Broadwood Primary School, and the proposed additional accommodation will increase the school’s capacity at their West Denton Way site to include pupils in the Upper Key Stage 2 phase.  There is no capacity to increase accommodation provision at Broadwood Primary School. It is also proposed to continue to suspend nursery provision at Thomas Bewick School in September 2023 due to the increased demand for pupils in Early Years and the lower Key Stages.

Thomas Bewick School is highly regarded for delivering high quality teaching and learning for pupils with autism. The intention is to build on this good reputation and provide this expertise to a growing number of pupils across the City by creating additional specialist places for children with complex and profound needs associated with autism.

Autism growth in Newcastle

Published data on long-term historical trends shows there has been a continuous increase in the proportion of the pupil population with autism in Newcastle schools since 2010. More recently (from 2017) the number and proportion of pupils with autism in Newcastle’s primary schools has increased sharply compared with previous years.

The number of children in Newcastle schools who have autism identified as their primary need has increased substantially over recent years, and rose from 213 in 2010 to 676 in 2019. The number who require specialist provision to meet their needs has also increased significantly and is expected to continue to do so.

Thomas Bewick School is designated as a specialist school for children and young people with autism and is for pupils whose needs can be best met within an autism specific environment. The school provides for pupils at the more complex end of the autism spectrum and all pupils have significant learning needs.

The increase in both the diagnosis and incidence of autism means that the current accommodation available at Thomas Bewick School will be insufficient to meet predicted future needs. Additional places will be needed for September 2023 and in future years, particularly for younger pupils in the early years and lower primary phase.

Newcastle City Council carried out a review of local SEND priorities that commenced in summer 2019 in the form of two stakeholder consultations.  Analysis of consultation responses suggested that there are not sufficient specialist places, or specialist expertise within mainstream provision to meet the growth in demand, and also that placing young children with emerging and complex needs into mainstream schools is not proving sustainable.  

In Newcastle, the proportion of children with autism in primary age provision rose from 4.4% of the total primary SEND population in January 2010 to 7.8% in 2019.  The proportion of pupils in special schools in Newcastle whose primary need is autism has almost doubled since 2010 (rising from 15.5% to 28.7%).

Autism places in specialist provision required for September 2023 and beyond

In total, there is a need for 336 places in Thomas Bewick School for September 2023 (21 more than are on roll at present).  Predictions for future years indicate a need for further places.

In order to meet the increased demand for autism places at Thomas Bewick School an option for potential additional accommodation has been explored.  For Newcastle City Council it is also essential that they ensure the best use of existing capacity and that resources across the city are being utilised effectively.  A capacity review has been undertaken within Thomas Bewick School, which has captured how the current accommodation in the school is being utilised; how timetabling of the curriculum and room use is planned, and to identify opportunities for enhanced use of space within the existing premises.

The numbers of pupils that can be accommodated at Thomas Bewick is dependent upon the complexity of the individual needs of pupils. For pupils with more complex needs, more space (and therefore smaller class sizes) are required, thus reducing the overall capacity of the school.  Age is also an important factor to consider, as the space required for secondary age pupils is greater than that for primary. Thomas Bewick identifies that the majority of their pupils are on the severe end of the autistic spectrum.

Places within Thomas Bewick School have risen year-on-year since 2006 to meet the growing demand for specialist places for pupils with autism.  Overall, the numbers of children and young people in Thomas Bewick between Reception and Year 14 has increased by 148% (from 127 to 315) since 2013/14.

Another factor for increasing places at Thomas Bewick is that for pupils with autism, placed in an environment within which they are not prospering (e.g. mainstream settings), may result in secondary issues relating to their Social, Emotional or Mental Health (SEMH).

Looking at Thomas Bewick pupil data over recent years it has been illustrated that the numbers of pupils with autism in the primary age group have already exceeded Thomas Bewick’s primary age capacity, and their progression into secondary provision would fill the places currently available before taking any increased levels of demand into account.

The recently developed LA SEND forecasting model suggests that demand in all areas of SEND need will increase and that the number of pupils with autism has risen more steeply in the past few years than previously, and as a result additional places will be needed in Newcastle special schools.

Rationale for use of additional accommodation for Thomas Bewick School at West Denton Way

  • This site has unused accommodation that is suitable for refurbishment to ensure autism appropriate teaching spaces.  This area would provide a discrete secondary / Post-16 area thereby freeing up space for younger pupils
  • The area is adjacent to the school’s existing accommodation for Key Stage 3, 4 and Post-16 pupils.
  • The building requires refurbishment as it has been unused for a number of years.
  • The required capital works can be carried out rapidly and Thomas Bewick will be able to occupy the space in time for new places to be available from September 2023 – 3 additional classrooms, toilet areas, a temporary dining space.
  • Further works will continue to develop the additional spaces required during the 2023/24 academic year – 3 additional classrooms, a rebound therapy space, a dining area, a sensory space, additional minibus drop-off point
  • As part of this project the Trust will look to develop an additional soft room, a food tech room and to re-commission the former school kitchen to allow school meals to be provided on-site

Consultation Response

The consultation has been completed and the report is below.

Consultation Response