HEADTEACHERS in Sunderland are leading the way by joining forces to open the country’s first special schools multi-academy.
The city’s four secondary age special schools, Barbara Priestman Academy in Meadowside, Castlegreen Community School at Hylton Castle, Portland Academy, Chapelgarth and Springwell Dene School in Springwell, have come together to form the Ascent Academy Trust.
Carolyn Barker, headteacher at Barbara Priestman, said: “We began planning 18 months ago by looking at how we could work better together and integrate our specialist provision, not only for the benefit of children at our own schools but also students with learning difficulties who are based in mainstream schools.
“The four heads are coming very much with the same vision. We all run very good schools and our job going forward is to maintain and build even further on those standards by supporting and challenging each other in one trust.”
The Ascent Trust will incorporate a trading arm to support special educational needs provision in Sunderland and beyond through support in teaching and learning, respite places for students who are struggling elsewhere and training courses focused on SEN.
As well as special needs teachers the trust also has a team of other experts such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists.
Graeme Shillinglaw, headteacher of Springwell Dene, said: “We will have the ability to appoint and deploy our specialists where needed.”
Like all academies, the new trust will be independent of the local authority and funded directly from government, which will increase the schools’ overall budget by about £500,000.
Ian Reed, headteacher of Castlegreen School, said: “Each school is different and will retain its own clear identity whilst working collaboratively. Each school will be represented equally on the trust board, which will have an overarching, elected chairman.”
Ascent has plans for new training provisions for 19 to 25-year-olds, including supported living accommodation in the future for young adults. Melanie Carson, headteacher at Portland College, said: “We have identified a clear need for respite accommodation in Sunderland. At the moment many young people have to go out of the local authority at great cost because of the demands relating to their complex needs. We feel we could offer that provision locally.”
Two open events for school leaders, SENCOs and other educationalists interested in the trust development are being hosted by Portland College on September 18 from 9am-1pm and on September 19 from noon-4pm.