A school providing “life-changing experiences” for its pupils is set for a major transformation from a £2m funding pot.
The Observatory School first opened in 2007 and provides education for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND). Originally based in just Bidston, it has more recently expanded to a second site at what was once the Leasowe Early Years and Adult Learning centre.
Wirral Council is investing over £2m in the current financial year to expand SEND provision at the Leasowe Observatory School site as well as Elleray Park Primary School in Pensby.
This £2m comes from an overall funding pot of nearly £4.4m given to the council by the government though the exact figure for a contract awarded to Anthony Dever Construction has not been made public.
The money will go towards new toilets, seven standard classrooms, renovated outdoor areas, specialist rooms, a library, IT facilities, and sensory integration rooms. In order to make the school more accessible, details such as colour schemes and lighting are also important in refurbishing the buildings.
The work is expected to take 16 weeks and be finished by January next year. Gregory Chiswell, the school’s headteacher said, “It’s the biggest investment we have had since they redeveloped Vyner” for a school he said provided “life-changing experiences for children on the Wirral.”
He said, “All the way from year three to year 11, it (the school) provides parents and pupils with a stable environment for pupils and parents. The stability the young people have in year three, they have a pathway until year 11.”
He added, “It is quite a special place. Parents are anxious but when they go in they love it. Staff will do anything to safeguard the kids. They will go to the ends of the earth.”
Wirral Council made the decision to open up another site for the Observatory School as “the (Leasowe) building had potential to be modified to receive older pupils” expanding capacity for the school.
The school is now admitting 160 pupils and last year the Observatory School received over three hundred consultations for admissions but can only admit around 20 children a year. The school was rated good in its last Ofsted inspection and sees above average attendance.
Asked why the school was seeing an increase in pupil numbers, Mr Chiswell said it had been oversubscribed since 2015, adding, “From our experience, this was happening before Covid. Covid has made the changes more acute but that was already on the upwards trend anyway. There was already an increasing trend.”
Nationally the number of education, health and care (EHC) plans for children and young people up to 25 who need more support in school has increased. In 2022, 4,200 more new plans were made compared to 2021, a 7% increase, and this follows a 3% increase the previous year.
By increasing the capacity at the school, Mr Chiswell said more children from Wirral who are currently taught outside the area can be taught closer to home. He said keeping children in school with SEND early was important, adding, “If you are able to teach children to regulate themselves daily, you avoid the trauma of them dropping out of school entirely.”
The investment in the school isn’t the only change Wirral Council is making to improve special needs services in the borough.
Following criticism by Ofsted in 2021 the service was “broken” and “often, families are pushed to the limits, emotionally, financially and physically,” the local authority has launched a new website called SENDLO Produced with parents, young people and partners, the website looks to direct families to the support services they need.
Cllr Sue Powell-Wilde, chair of Wirral Council’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, said, “I hope that anybody using the site will see the care and attention to detail that has gone into creating this fantastic new online space which should further enable our young people to flourish and thrive.”
Image: The new Observatory School site in Leasowe. Credit: GOOGLE