Councillors meet for update on Coombe House School
A meeting took place of Dorset Council’s two scrutiny committees in a joint session for an update on Coombe House School, the new school for children in Dorset with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).
Many Dorset Council meetings are open to the public, but this Joint Scrutiny Committee took place in confidential session, due to the material under consideration.
Cllr Gill Taylor, Chair of the Joint Scrutiny Committee, said: “This meeting was an important opportunity for councillors from the two scrutiny committees to hear a detailed report on the opening of Coombe House School, an explanation of the issues that arose, and a comprehensive account of the actions in place to address those issues.
“As councillors, we understand that certain matters, such as those which concern specific individuals – whether staff or pupils – cannot be discussed in a public forum for legal reasons.
“Councillors were able to ask wide-ranging questions. The session has given reassurance that robust actions are being taken to ensure Coombe House School is ready to welcome pupils with the start of the new school year in September.”
Coombe House School, in Shaftesbury, opened in May but at the point of opening not all the building work had been completed and there remained some challenges with the site which arose in the first week, so the school was closed for one week from 23 May.
The committee heard details of the things being done to ensure the school is ready to start the new school year, including a programme of building works which is due for completion by the end of August.
There have been some changes to staffing with Sean Kretz, the Headteacher of Westfield School, stepping in to support Coombe House as a short-term measure, helping the teaching staff to prepare for the new term in September. There has also been a greater emphasis on providing therapeutic and pastoral care to support the children’s needs.
Councillor Andrew Parry, Portfolio Holder for Children, Education, Skills and Early Help, said: “We apologise to the children, young people and families who have been negatively affected by the bumpy opening of Coombe House School. This is not what any of us wanted and we are working hard, with the independent board to put things right.
“We remain confident that buying the old St Mary’s School site was the right thing to do, particularly as more SEND provision was needed in the north and using this existing school site is quicker and more cost effective than building a new school from scratch.
“Turning it into a special school is part of a bigger picture that Dorset Council has to increase SEND provision creating an additional 500 places for Dorset children and young people.”
“It will provide a great place to learn for the children who go there and over time will save money that is currently being spent to educate children in other independent facilities. We will continue to work closely with the Dorset Centre of Excellence Board, who are the proprietors of the school, to ensure this happens.”