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Government urged to give green light for new special school on Portland

Calls have been made for the government to give the green light for a new special school on Portland.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax pressed ministers to approve the plan as he made calls for improvements to the area, detailing a number of issues that urgently need addressing.

It was reported last year that a bid by the former Dorset County Council for a new special free school in the county had been backed by government ministers.

It was part of plans to create additional school places for pupils with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties, mental health conditions, and those at risk of being excluded from mainstream schools.

A trust would be sought to run the school.

It can now be revealed the former Osprey Quay school campus on Portland is being considered as the site for the special school.

Site owners Aspirations Academies Trust, which runs Atlantic Academy on the island, has agreed to lease the Osprey Quay building to Dorset Council. However the trust will not be involved in running the special school.

Dorset was one of six successful councils in the south west to bid for a new school. The special free school will support up to 75 young people aged 14-19 with autism and complex learning difficulties.

Free schools are funded by the government and have more control over how they do things.

Mr Drax made mention of the proposed facility as he spoke in an ongoing Parliamentary debate about the Queen’s Speech.

He listed what he said were some of the most important issues affecting South Dorset, including education, the NHS, social care, affordable housing, and improved rail links.

On education, he called for a fairer funding formula for schools, particularly in regard to special educational needs and disability, which suffer from a lack of financial support. Mr Drax said this should be a priority for the Government.

He added: “Weymouth College in my constituency is the only place where young people have a hope of getting into further education and on to better careers. That, too, needs more funding.”

Mr Drax concluded this section of his speech by referring to plans for a new special school on Portland, which “currently sit on the Education Secretary’s desk, waiting to be signed off”.

Mr Drax said he hoped this happens as soon as possible “as the facility is much needed on Portland”.

A spokesman for the Aspirations Academies Trust said: “Atlantic Academy is not involved in any plans for a new special school on Portland.

“However, following a request from Dorset local authority, Aspirations Academies Trust agreed to lease back to them the Osprey Quay site after they expressed an interest in housing a special school there.”

No-one was available at Dorset Council for comment.

Social care and NHS among other pressing issues

IN HIS speech in Parliament, Mr Drax highlighted other issues which he said were important to South Dorset.

Regarding the NHS, he said the recent decision to move A&E and maternity services from Poole Hospital to Royal Bournemouth Hospital had “caused a lot of anger and disappointment” and he urged the Government to look at that decision again.

On social care, he said funding this was a major issue, and comes after “huge cuts and sacrifices were made” in local government reorganisation which saw the creation of the new Dorset Council unitary authority.

Mr Drax said: “One of our major problems is paying for social care. The Prime Minister has said that that is high on his agenda. I urge the Government to sort this out as soon as possible, because I do not want our new unitary authority left high and dry, unable to afford social care at this crucial time.”

He went on urge to Government to look at, “truly affordable housing,” the Airborne Initiative for young offenders, started at YOI Portland by former West Dorset MP Sir Jim Spicer, a further 120 police officers as promised, improvements in railway and other infrastructure, provision of compulsory bus services and an end to “punitive” business rates for small businesses.

Finally, Mr Drax called on the Government to raise defence expenditure: “If we are to play our role outside the EU and stand up for freedom, truth and democracy, as this country has a proud reputation of doing, we need strong armed forces and they need more money.”

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