NEW plans to improve the lives of Dorset children with special educational needs and or a disability (SEND) and reduce future costs have been unveiled.

A total of £37.5m has been secured for the next five years to help deliver the council’s aim, set out in its Children’s Plan, of providing the best education for Dorset children and young people with SEND.

The plans, detailed in the new SEND Capital Strategy, include the creation of new special schools with improved facilities and the expansion of high quality provision at Dorset’s existing special schools. Dorset Council also wants to develop new facilities at many mainstream schools, such as special bases, to support children and young people with SEND.

The SEND strategy will also help reduce some costs in the longer term. Currently some children and young people with SEND have to be sent away, sometimes far from home, for independent educational provision, because there is not enough specialist provision available within Dorset.

Independent provision costs around £60,000 a year per child, compared to around £22,000 for high quality provision at one of Dorset’s own special schools. Currently more than 250 Dorset children and young people have to attend independent provision at a cost of around £14 million a year.

The plans, which were recently approved by councillors will be examined again at Dorset Council’s cabinet meeting on April 6 when the Capital Programme for 2021-22 is considered.

The council developed the plans in response to the growing need for more special educational provision - with young people with Education, Health and Care Plans in Dorset nearly doubling between 2015 and 2020.

Cllr Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Early Help, said: “We have to be bold if we are to secure the best education for all children in Dorset. I am proud of these ambitious plans, which I believe will improve the lives of Dorset children and young people with SEND.

“I know people will ask ‘why are we spending money at this difficult time’ but we have to, firstly because we want to make Dorset the best place to grow-up for all children and young people, but also because creating our own high quality provision will save money in the longer term.”

Plans for a new school specifically for children with autism and complex learning difficulties are also underway and form part of the strategy to create more SEND provision.

Dorset Council will shortly be inviting families whose children have special educational needs and or a disabilities to a special briefing about the wider SEND strategy.