Last week, I was delighted to arrange for Belmont special school Head Kevin Day to visit 10 Downing Street. As I wrote in last week’s Echo, Kevin was representing all of Cheltenham’s special schools – Belmont, Bettridge, the Ridge Academy and Battledown Centre. I wanted him to have the chance to speak to senior ministers and brief them on the vital work being done locally.
Less than a fortnight later, ministers have now agreed to provide councils with £50 million to improve existing facilities for pupils with special educational needs, and create new places where appropriate. Whilst I’m sure Kevin’s far too modest to take the credit for the announcement, he certainly made a powerful impression!
It’s good news because, as I’ve been telling the Education Secretary, Cheltenham’s special school teachers are doing wonders for children whose needs overall are far more complex than just 25 years ago. This funding can be used to build additions such as sensory rooms and playgrounds with specialist equipment.
This announcement boosts the total of equipment and buildings funding specifically ring-fenced for SEND pupils to £265 million.
Meanwhile, in mainstream education DfE has also announced that it will spend £680 million to create 40,000 new mainstream school places in 2020-21. This comes on top of the £980 million already allocated for school places in 2019-20. These sums are huge, but building schools is expensive. The new school earmarked for south Cheltenham is expected to cost over £30 million alone.
Bricks and mortar are important, but it’s great teachers which make the biggest difference. Their hard work is driving standards up. Take reading: in 2012, just 58% of six-year-olds reached the pass mark of 32 out of the 40 in the phonics check. In 2017, it was up at 81%.
We owe Cheltenham’s teachers a huge debt of gratitude.