New school for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs is top of the agenda

Leeds, Leeds Star

Senior councillors have approved a £45 million investment in specialist education provision for Leeds children who have social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

At this week’s meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board, members approved the significant investment to transform education and support services for children with (SEMH) needs, by creating one specialist learning offer which will be delivered over four sites.

The new learning places will replace the current ‘Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties’ (BESD) provision and Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) provision, and will be delivered by Wellspring Academy Trust, the only ‘outstanding’ provider of SEMH provision in the north of England.

All SEMH provision in Leeds will be delivered over four locations across the city, which are:

  • Springwell East – the former East Leeds Family Learning Centre;
  • Springwell South – the former Merlyn Rees high School site;
  • Springwell North Leeds – a redevelopment of the Tinshill PRU
  • Springwell Oakwood – the existing BESD provision at Oakwood Lane.

Whilst the investment to create a new way of providing SEMH education was agreed in principle by the council’s executive board in November 2015, it has now been approved that £40 million is to be used to create three new purpose built learning facilities plus £5 million which will be used for set up costs.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, executive member for children and families said:

“This hugely significant investment in world class facilities, support and education for those young people in our city with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs is long overdue. It will enable more young people’s needs to be met closer to home, and save them from having to travel out of the city to access the learning environment they need.

“This new specialist provision will radically improve the learning, support and outcomes for some of the city’s most vulnerable children, replacing old, unsuitable buildings with specially designed learning places, which are fit for the future.”

The key aim of reshaping the provision for children with SEMH needs is to drastically improve the pupils’ attainment and long term outcomes, but it will also enable the council to save public money. Furthermore, fewer children will have to travel to provision outside of the city to access the quality learning environment they need, as it will be available much closer to home at one of the four sites across the city.

At today’s meeting, the members heard that planning applications for the three new buildings have all been submitted to be considered for approval. The proposed new buildings have been designed to ensure that all aspects of the building, grounds and infrastructure are tailored to meet the particular needs of the children and young people on roll.

The three schools will have capacity for 100 pupils each, split between permanent and assessment places, and will be designed carefully to provide a warm and welcoming environment to encourage attendance and a desire to access education. The school buildings have been designed to be adaptable to enable the provision of innovative teaching methods needed by the young people there.

As well as ‘learning zones’ which will include therapeutic and nurture provision, there will be specially designed communal spaces to help pupils build social skills during breakout lessons, and extensive sports areas to provide a holistic physical education programme to promote wellbeing and integration within a team environment.

Additionally the Springwell South site will include sports facilities shared with the South Leeds Youth Hub to provide a team sports resource which can benefit the wider community.

Work on the three new buildings will run concurrently, with the accommodation due to be ready during the 2017/18 academic year.