Expansion for Wickford special needs school

An Essex special educational needs school will expand in the wake of the “dreadful” number of people with learning disabilities in paid employment.

Essex County Council’s has agreed to pull down temporary classrooms at Castledon School in Wickford to replace them with a new two storey teaching block consisting of eight general classrooms and a 180 square metre sports hall.

The temporary classrooms were previously branded among the worst in Essex.

The proposed new build and internal adaptations at Castledon School will increase the capacity of years one to 11 from 114 to 196 pupils, however the current number of pupils of 240 will remain unchanged. The sixth form are taught in a separate block.

Cabinet member for adult social care Councillor John Spence said the investment will help ensure more adults with leaning disabilities can find jobs once they leave school.

He said Essex’s figure of 6.2 per cent is higher than the national average of five per cent but still “dreadful”.

He said: “The overall employment in Essex with learning disabilities is 6.2 per cent – a dreadful number but that is all ranges and the number is higher at the lower age range.

“The questioning has exposed is how important it is to have the continuum which needs to start young with preparing the children and their parents to attitudes of independence. Preparing them to expect to live independent lives rather than one where they are constantly cared for.

“And to ensure that the schools and further education colleges are geared up into that so that these children and young people migrate into our Meaningful Lives programme of employment which goes across the piece.”

Work is due to start in November 2023 and finish in October 2024.

Essex County Council says there is increased need for provision for children and young people with moderate learning difficulties in south Essex and the need to replace temporary classrooms, which have reached the end of their life, will place “considerable pressure” on Castledon School if not addressed.

In 2021 Essex County Council said its SEND operations team had faced an “unprecedented situation” with a need now to provide additional capacity in the team to deliver the authority’s statutory duties.

The council report said the authority received 223 requests for education, health and care (EHC) assessments in 2020 once Covid struck – up from 197 per month in 2018/19.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter