AMBITIOUS plans to improve education for special needs pupils in West Berkshire and save £1.7 million over the next six years have been unveiled.

West Berkshire Council has outlined a strategy which aims to ensure pupils “receive the best possible services” that are “delivered as cost effectively as possible”.

It includes plans to build a new school in West Berkshire for 66 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The council is currently searching for a site for the school.

The new school could save West Berkshire Council over £1 million by 2027 and “take pressure off” two local SEND schools (Brookfields and The Castle School), according to a council report.

It states: “When the new provision is operating at full capacity it should yield some significant savings in the High Needs Block.

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“However, it should be noted that the provision will grow in size gradually, so in the initial stages the unit cost of a place will be disproportionately high and may not be less than the cost of an equivalent external placement.”

The Conservative-run council also wants to help mainstream schools meet the needs of SEND pupils, so it can reduce the number of children who need to be sent to expensive independent specialist schools.

It plans to recruit a Therapeutic Thinking Officer, to “embed therapeutic thinking approaches in mainstream schools”, and hire well-trained and experienced teaching assistants to support SEND children.

Plans to provide an extra £125,000 through the Vulnerable Children Grant to help schools “implement therapeutic thinking approaches” and avoid exclusions, have also been outlined.

The council currently pays for 36 children with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs to attend specialist schools and each placement costs around £54,000 a year.

It also pays for 53 children with autism to attend specialist schools, with each placement costing between £55,000 and £63,000 a year.

According to the council report, it “is not possible to say accurately” how many of these placements could be avoided if SEND support in mainstream schools is improved.

But the council says it would save £434,000 by avoiding six SEMH placements and two placements for autistic children by 2023.

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Cutting the number of permanent exclusions is another priority for the council.

Reducing exclusions by just eight per cent could save £156,000 by 2025, the report says.

It also wants to help families become “more confident” in making the transition from school to adulthood so there is less demand for

placements in specialist further education colleges, as each placement costs between £50,000 to £150,000.

The five-year SEND strategy will be discussed by the council’s Schools Forum on October 19.