It is a ‘difficult decision’ to close a specialist school in Bracknell – but money saved will improve support for children elsewhere, the council leader has assured.

Leaders of Bracknell Forest Council have agreed to close College Hall pupil referral unit on Old Wokingham Road. The unit is for children who have been permanently excluded from mainstream school and may special educational needs.

But council leader Mary Temperton said she agreed with management that the unit is ‘no longer fit for purpose'.

She said: “It’s a difficult decision but in autumn 2023 head teachers revealed unanimous agreement that College Hall PRU is no longer fit for purpose.”

READ MORE: worries for children's future if College Hall closes

College Hall was graded ‘inadequate’ in all areas by schools inspector Ofsted last year. The government then ordered it to become an academy – meaning it would be run by a private organisation but still publicly funded.

The unit also ran into financial problems, spending £16,000 over budget between April 2022 and April 2023.

The council says the school currently gets £1.5 million for up to 56 children. But there are currently 26 pupils attended and numbers are expected to drop – along with funding.

Council documents say the council expects just 11 pupils to attend College Hall with just £500,000 of funding from September 2025.

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Council leaders agreed that the money should instead be spent on improving special educational needs services elsewhere in the borough.

This will include opening two new specialist schools – one for children with autism and another for those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Roy Bailey – the councillor responsible for education – said: “The council is investing significantly in new provision that is fit for purpose to create more local capacity for young people with special educational needs.

“These facilities include a new special SEMH school for secondary pupils and two secondary special resource provisions for pupils with autism and communication and interaction needs.”

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Concerns about where College Hall pupils will go, and whether there is enough support elsewhere in the borough, were raised by people taking part in a recent consultation on the closure.

Councillor Bailey said current Year 11 pupils would complete the GCSEs without disruption and then get personalised plans for post-16 education. He also said the council would aim for a ‘smooth transition’ to for other pupils, with a personalised approach for each.

Duane Chappell, the council’s assistant director for education and learning, said that pupil referral unit is for children permanently excluded and that some may have ‘unidentified special educational needs'.

However she acknowledged that to attend the planned new SEMH school, children will need an education health and care plan, which is for children with identified special educational needs.

Bracknell Forest’s executive committee – its group of leading councillors – agreed to go ahead with the closure on Tuesday, May 21.

The government will still have to agree to withdraw its academy order. If it does, College Hall pupil referral unit is set to close on August 31.