“It’s been fantastic,” said Laura Pottage, mother of seven-year-old Molly, who has Downs Syndrome, and is one of 12 children who started at the Ripon satellite school last week. “This provision was desperately needed in this area and Molly is very very happy.”
Mowbray is an oversubscribed special school in Bedale where, according to Ofsted, good opportunities for pupils’ personal development and strong relationships between pupils and staff are at the core of the school’s work.
Rather than having to keep turning children away, the school’s headteacher Jonathan Tearle in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council, has long harboured an ambition to open a satellite school to serve Harrogate district.
Molly has been in mainstream for three and a half years and Laura her mother, who fell in love with Mowbray School after visiting the Bedale site, believes the more specialist provision of the type offered by Mowbray in Bedale and now in Ripon is what her daughter needs.
She said: “It’s a very dynamic, forward-thinking school which prepares children for life in society and delivers a good education in a way children can engage with.”
The County Council has supported Mowbray’s ambitions for aged 3-11 satellite provision for the Harrogate district by providing over half a million pounds in funding – £374,000 capital to adapt the former Moorside Infant School site in Ripon and a £200,000 contribution to staffing, resources and other associated costs. This financial support has enabled staff to be trained at Bedale in the teaching and learning ethos of Mowbray school in advance of the Ripon site opening.
“The children have had a wonderful start to their time at Mowbray in Ripon,” said County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills. “Providing additional high quality special school places like this is part of our strategic plan for children with special educational needs and disabilities. We want more children to access the right kind of education locally to cut down on journeys to school which can be across the county in some cases. We are very happy to have supported the opening of this school.
“We are using the funds we have in the most efficient way possible to meet the aims of our strategic plan and to create additional places in the right areas of the county.”
The Ripon site will accommodate 20 children by the end of this school year, rising to 40 from September 2021, with capacity for 60 in due course.
All of the children who started last week had previously been in mainstream schools and for some, like six-year-old Bane Geddes, it was the first time they had spent full days in school.
“It’s remarkable to think we have just opened because the children have settled in straight away, even though they are all new to each other,” said Jonathan Tearle. “But among the staff here are some of my most experienced teachers who have transferred from the Mowbray site and new staff have all been working in Mowbray since last autumn, getting to know the way we do things, supporting the individual child to exceed in all areas, social as well as academic. This investment in time and training pays off.
“We took over an empty school in Ripon in November, and I am so proud of my staff in getting things up and running and so welcoming for the start in January. They have been phenomenal. We have had a say in all the ways the building is being adapted to meet the needs of these children and we have been supported all the way by the county council.”