Funding setback for special school

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A SPECIAL school, which offers life-changing education to children with cerebral palsy, has lost its bid to secure state funding as Sheffield’s first free school.

Paces at High Green was set up by parents in 1992 to specialise in conductive education – a system pioneered by the Petö Institute in Budapest.

Since then it has transformed the lives of scores of pupils across the area.

Trustees were hoping to expand its work dramatically with additional funding that ‘free’ status would bring. Now those hopes have been dashed by rejection of the application.

But trustees have pledged to fight on. “This is a huge disappointment for us at Paces… as well, maybe, as for children with cerebral palsy across South Yorkshire and beyond,” said chief executive Norman Perrin, one of the original founders.

“We shall, nevertheless, reflect on the reasons and learn lessons from them.

“We shall, in all probability, apply again next year.”

Conductive education focuses on a child’s physical and social needs as well as educational.

The five-acre Paces campus – the former site of High Green comprehensive – is also home to a mainstream nursery school, a gym and an art group.

There are currently 27 children on the roll and the cost for every one is more than £22,000 per year.

The money comes primarily from local authority funding based on each child’s statement of special educational needs.

But persuading local councils to provide the funding is a constant battle, say trustees.

Free school status would attract direct Government funding – not only easing day-to-day running of Paces, but allowing it to double the number of pupils next year and eventually triple the intake.

The school put together a case that was judged ‘compelling’ by independent readers.

The application was backed by an Ofsted report that judged the school to be ‘good’ with outstanding features and hopes were high after it got through the interview stage.

But the bid has been turned down at the final hurdle by the Department for Education.

“When all is said and done, I doubt we could have done more,” said Mr Perrin. “But in the end it was not sufficient.”

Chair of trustees, John Biggin, admitted that the decision had come as a blow. “The school has been very successful and we thought this move would realise its potential,” he said.

Reasons given for the rejection centre around lack of proof on two points: that there is a demand for the school and that it would provide value for money.

Paces managers are frustrated. “We know there are about 700 families in South Yorkshire who would benefit from conductive education, we just don’t yet have the evidence to prove it,” said Mr Biggin.

“It’s difficult to persuade local authorities to provide funding but with free status in place we could encourage growth.”

Trustees are deciding the way forward.

“It’s disappointing that they’ve taken this decision. We’re going to fight back – but the next opportunity to apply is not for another year.

“We’re going to continue with our mission to grow the school anyway. This was a means to an end but for the moment we shall just press on with our policy more slowly.”