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Dorset CouncilProgress continues at Dorset’s new school in Shaftesbury for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

Coombe House School, named after the original house on the site, will be part of the wider Dorset Centre of Excellence development.

The school is being developed with fantastic facilities to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND, and to reduce future costs.

The first teachers have been recruited, they are experienced staff with a range of primary, secondary and special education backgrounds.

Headteacher Katie Charles joined the project in October 2021. She says: ‘I’m looking forward to welcoming my new colleagues to Coombe House School so we can build long-lasting relationships with our students, parents and the community.

‘The school will be dedicated to preparing our students for their future. This underpins our promise to equip every student with the essential life skills, knowledge and qualifications to ensure they embark on the next stage of their life journey with as much confidence and independence as possible when they leave.’

While construction and adaptation work continues, the curriculum is being developed, and paperwork prepared for the Ofsted inspection that will take place before the first students come through the doors.

Coombe House School will open in spring 2022. Before this, a transition process will begin early in the new year for the young people and their families who will be the first students joining the school. It is anticipated that 60 students will join the school in the first year, and this will grow to around 280 students over the next five years.

It will be a managed transition for students joining the school and Councillor Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Early Help, explained how this will work.

‘The admission process starts with a council referral to the school. If it is decided by the family and school professionals that the school can meet the young person’s needs, a plan will be developed to make transition as smooth as possible,’ he said.

‘The children and young people will join the school at a time that’s right for them, not necessarily at the start of a new school term. The school will work closely with each child and their family, alongside professionals, such as education psychologists.’

Councillor Parry continued: ‘Relationship building is the key to the success of this process, and the council will work with families, young people and the school to ensure we get off to the best start possible.

‘This is about what’s right for each individual and we look forward to welcoming our children and young people to their new school.’

The Dorset Centre of Excellence will be a national centre of learning for professionals working with children and young people and a community asset. It will offer training and courses, making use of the state-of-the-art facilities, including provision for arts, culture, music and sport.

In early 2021, Dorset Council took the step of securing the extensive site to meet the growing need for more high-quality special education provision. Coombe House School will join Dorset Council’s other existing special schools in and is part of the council’s wider £37.5 million plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND.

500 places for children with SEND are being created across Dorset as part of the council’s £37.5 million investment.

Whilst the majority of children with SEND can be supported in mainstream schools, such as local primary and secondary schools, there are some children and young people who need more specialist support and provision.

Currently more than 250 Dorset children and young people with SEND are educated in expensive, independent provision, many far out of our county. This currently costs Dorset Council around £14 million a year.

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