Old school handed new lease of life

The former Brantwood School will be used as a centre for young people with special educational needs.
The former Brantwood School will be used as a centre for young people with special educational needs.

A SHEFFIELD private school which closed a year ago is to be given a new lease of life as a centre for children with special educational needs.

Brantwood School at Nether Edge, formerly a day school for girls, is to become an independent specialist school for 50 children aged seven to 19 with learning difficulties and development delay, particularly autism.

It will also be a registered children’s home so it can provide residential care for some of the students for up to 52 weeks a year.

The Victorian building has been bought by Ruskin Mill Educational Trust and represents an investment of £1.9m over three years.

Already the trust works with young people with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioural difficulties at three independent colleges across the country, including Freeman College in Sheffield.

It expects to open in Nether Edge this summer with a small number of pupils, rising to 15 places in September, and will be recruiting specialist teachers, support staff, residential staff and other posts including an administrator.

The school will have 20 staff initially and the number is expected to grow as pupil numbers grow year by year.

David Heugh, Freeman College’s director of fundraising, said: “RMET has long desired to extend its provision to an earlier age range, recognising that early intervention is the key to meeting the developmental needs of young people and children with learning disabilities, and it has now realised that ambition.

“This is a tremendously exciting development for Sheffield.”

Brantwood, which has housed a school for 108 years, closed controversially a year ago when the bank withdrew financial support.

Now it will be used again for education, offering a mix of therapies and classroom-based subjects but also a more practically based curriculum, including ceramics and pottery, wool and textiles and horticulture. Some activities may be off-site such as at Freeman College’s garden centre at High Riggs, Stannington.

RMET, part of the Rudolf Steiner Charitable Educational Trust, is applying to the council for planning permission for changes to the Brantwood building.

It is using its own reserves and a loan from the Triodos Bank, a European ethical bank which supports sustainability, environmental and educational projects, to finance the Sheffield project.

Council executive director for children and young people, Sonia Sharp, said: “The city council will willingly work in partnership with RMET and with Freeman College. At present a few of our primary and secondary children with special needs are necessarily placed in schools and children’s homes some distance outside Sheffield, so the plan for Brantwood will meet a definite need in Sheffield.”

The school’s new headteacher, Constantin Court, formerly assistant principal and head of residential care at Freeman College, said: “I feel extremely privileged to be leading staff and students on this journey. We believe in developing the whole person, meeting the physical, emotional, spiritual and social as well as the academic needs of the pupil.

“We believe that the way to achieve this development lies widely in the arts and crafts and that education should be enjoyable, especially for pupils who have not experienced this in the past. We are committed to making a positive impact on their lives and to helping them become valued and contributing members of society.”

Helen Kippax, principal of Freeman College, said: “Freeman College is now well recognised within the city and by Ofsted for delivering a student-centred, innovative curriculum that empowers the young person to develop in all aspects of his or her life and also to achieve national accredited qualifications.

“I fully support this new initiative that extends our expertise to a younger age range and I believe that the earlier a therapeutic process responding to the young person is started the better.”