Special schools team up to become academy trust

Barbara Priestman School, Sunderland

Barbara Priestman School, Sunderland

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SPECIAL schools are joining forces as part of an academy trust.

Sunderland’s Portland College and Barbara Priestman School are set to become academies in July, as part of the new Ascent Multi-agency Trust.

Head Teacher Carolyn Barker at Barbara Priestman School, Sunderland

Head Teacher Carolyn Barker at Barbara Priestman School, Sunderland

Two other Wearside schools are looking at the possibility of joining them in the future.

Carolyn Barker, headteacher of Barbara Priestman School, said they have been in talks about the venture for more than a year, and it was an exciting time for both establishments.

She said the Meadowside school will become Barbara Priestman Academy.

Portland Academy, which is headed by Melanie Carson, will be launched at the Chapelgarth special school.

Portland College, Sunderland

Portland College, Sunderland

There will be one overall trust board, made up of representatives from each school, making sure the strategic objectives of the trust are met.

However, Mrs Barker said Portland and Barbara Priestman, and any school which join in the future, will still have their own governing body.

“It is a partnership approach,” she added. “But we will each keep our own autonomy.

“We are very different schools in a lot of respects, but have a lot of things in common as well.”

Barbara Priestman caters for the needs of children aged three to 19 with complex learning needs, and most pupils are autistic.

Portland takes children aged 11-19 who have severe learning difficulties.

Due to the special needs of pupils the schools will still work closely with the local authority, and their admission procedures will not change.

Mrs Barker said the move to academy status has been meet with hugely positive feedback by everyone they have consulted.

“We believe one of the main benefits will be that we are able to draw on the expertise of each other,” she added.

It will also mean each of the schools has easier access to various health professionals the other might already have links with.

Another benefit of becoming an academy is that funds which previously went to Sunderland City Council as the education authority – to spend on behalf of the special schools – will go straight to the schools themselves to decide how they want to spend it.

Twitter: @SunEchoSchools

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