Pencalenick School in Truro could lose £563,000 funding for special needs pupils

Pencalenick School in Truro
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Cornwall Council has proposed to scrap funding that allows children with special education needs and disabilities to board at a specialist school while their families gain some respite. Distraught parents say children with additional needs are once again being "let down".

The local authority wants to stop special educational needs (SEN) residential provision at Pencalenick School near Truro, which has around 142 secondary school pupils. It says the £563,000 per year it currently gives to Special Schools Partnership Trust (SSPT), which runs the school, would be better used elsewhere, but parents are distraught at the decision.

The council said it wants to use that funding to create specialist SEN education 'day places' instead, "where there is need in Cornwall to help meet the growing need for these places". But one parent says to lose the facility will be "devastating" as she opens up on how it has helped her child build confidence and gain independence.

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Lisa Trerise De-Bargeton, whose 14-year-old son boards at the school one night a week, said: "As you can imagine it is devastating news for our children that access this facility. My son has gained so much independence and social skills from boarding here just one night a week. To have that taken away will be devastating."

Cornwall Council said the service, which can have as many as 20 children stay overnight from Monday to Friday, "no longer presents value for money". In a statement, it said: "Cornwall Council is responsible for ensuring the funding available for the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Cornwall meets the needs identified in their education health and care (EHC) plans.

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"We currently have over 4,000 children with EHC plans and this is increasing daily. Our SEND Transformation Strategy is focused on supporting mainstream schools to accommodate children where possible but there is an increasing need for SEN education day places which we are currently not able to meet."

Cornwall Council is currently funding the SSPT with £563,000 per year for SEN residential provision at its residential boarding facility at the Truro school, which is a discretionary provision. This overnight boarding can reduce the need for pupils to travel, provide respite to parents and guardians and support pupils to learn skills for independent living.

But Cornwall Council says the use of these boarding facilities has been declining and the number of pupils using the service is low. It said none of the pupils using the boarding facility have an identified need for residential provision in their EHC plan either.

Mrs Lisa Trerise De-Bargeton, however, says the only reason pupils do not have the need for residential provision mentioned in their EHC plan is likely because they were already being provided with this. "It was never really mentioned because the provision was already there so it wasn't written into the plan. As parents, now we realise had it been written in their plan that it is a legal document and would have to carry on.

"Since [my son] has been boarding his confidence has come on massively. He's not able to access mainstream activities really whereas my younger son does. But for [my son] to have a night away from his parents as well and to feel independent and be away with his friends has had a massive impact on his life."

Clare Symons' son is due to start secondary school this year. She said: "This is a valuable service and provision for young adults with special needs and provides so much for them. It helps families too and I was banking on this for when my son starts in September. We have friends who find this service so helpful.

"I have two autistic sons, both moderately on the spectrum, and it would be good from a family point of view to have a bit of respite but, for my son, it would be good for him to gain those social skills from peers that are like him.

"He's quite isolated at the moment as they don't have many children who can play with them and hang around with them. We had a tour around the school and the things that they do for the children are remarkable. For children like mine, it's a really good provision for them.

"It always seems to be the special needs kids that have to do without and are being let down. We always have to fight for our kids. This really is the icing on the cake."

A spokesperson for Cornwall Council said: "We fully appreciate the benefit this service at Pencalenick School has brought to the families who use it and the hard work and dedication of the staff who run it. Cornwall Council has therefore asked SPT to commence a consultation with pupils, parents and guardians about the proposal to cease the boarding provision.

"Before we make any decisions, we will take into account the feedback we receive through our consultation and, to the extent it is appropriate to do so, the results of SPTs consultation."

If the proposals are approved it is anticipated that the boarding facility at Pencalenick School would close at the end of the current academic year. The proposals are, however, not expected to adversely impact SEN education day provision at Pencalenick.

To provide feedback about these proposals, you will need to do so by 5pm on June 10, 2024. You can make your thoughts known in the online consultation questionnaire, available here.

Pencalenick School and Special Schools Partnership Trust (SPT) have been contacted for comment.