AS demand for places in special schools increases, Hertfordshire County Council has drawn up £2.63 million plans to increase the number of places by 56.

As part of the proposals, the number of places at Greenside Community Special School, in Stevenage, would increase by 16.

The number of places at Lakeside Community Special School, in Welwyn Garden City, would increase by eight.

And the number of places at Woodfield Community Special School, in Hemel Hempstead, would increase by 32.

All three of the schools are for children with severe leaning difficulties. And – if approved – the additional places would be available by September (2020).

However some of the schools are already offering a number of additional places on a temporary basis.

In a report to the county council’s education, libraries and localism cabinet panel, council officers say that demand for places in the county’s special needs schools is increasing and that existing special schools are full.

And they say they have drawn up the plans to expand the schools – at a cost of £2.63 million – to meet the existing and growing demand.

“A rising demand for places in special schools has meant that the existing special schools are at capacity,” says a report to the education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Wednesday (February 5).

“These proposals will ensure that children whose Education, Health and Care Plans have identified the need for a special school place which provides for children with severe learning difficulties are appropriately met.”

Public consultation was held on the plans to permanently expand the three schools in November/December.

And the plans – backed by the cabinet panel – will be determined by the cabinet later this month.

At Greenside, 15 of the 22 people who responded to the consultation – as well as the governing body – backed the plans for the extra 16 places, which would increase the school population to 158.

However there were some concerns raised about the levels of traffic, road safety and parking.

As part of the £690,000 works a new 37-space car par is planned for staff and visitors which should be sufficient for current and future needs – meaning staff will no longer park in Shepnall Green.

At Lakeside the £730,000 plans to add on eight places to the existing 67 places were backed by 42 of the 47 respondents  – as well as the governing body.

Due to pressure for places, the school already has 75 pupils on its roll, on a temporary bases. And the changes will make this figure permanent.

Concerns were raised about the levels of traffic, road safety and parking. And the report to the cabinet panel says that whilst parking on the site is limited, the potential for additional parking will be explored.

Meanwhile £1.21m plans to increase the size of Woodfield from 88 to 120 places was backed by 52 of the 79 respondents – as well as the governing body.

The school already has a number of additional pupils on a temporary basis – with 104 curremtly on roll. So, in practice, the change would allow an additional 16 pupils.

The most common concern about the expansion related to levels of traffic, road safety and parking.

But officers point to additional on-site parking provision within the proposal and say the majority of pupils arrive and leave by minibus.

Others suggested the expansion may adversely impact on Woodfield’s ‘small school ethos’.

And they said it could impact on facilities such as the dining hall, hall and playground – as well as the loss of outside space.

But officers say there is no direct relationship between the size of a school and the standards it achieves or its effectiveness.

They say there will be additional learning spaces and an improved dining experience, with schedules to ensue all students receive the same level of support.

And they say the new block will not result in the loss of any outside space currently accessed by students.