THE vast majority of respondents to a survey have backed plans for a former school site in North Dorset to continue being used for educational purposes.

Of 1,400 people who responded to a survey from Dorset Council, 92 per cent stated they wanted the former St Mary’s school site in Shaftesbury to continue as an educational site.

The majority, 82 per cent, favoured using the site as a special educational needs or disability (SEND) school.

Dorset residents also backed the idea of creating complementary facilities for vulnerable children, young people and adults alongside its educational purpose, also 82 per cent of respondents.

The responses will now be carefully considered before a decision on the future of the site is made at Dorset Council’s cabinet meeting on April 29.

The council is considering a range of options for the site, but said its preferred option is a SEND school because of the growing demand.

Currently around 3,000 pupils in Dorset with SEND who are supported by an education, health and care Plan, compared to 1,500 in 2015.

Whilst the majority can be supported in mainstream schools, there are some children and young people who need more specialist support and provision.

Independent provision for these pupils is expensive, costs vary, but it is often around £60K a year, per place, compared to about £22K for similar provision at one of Dorset’s special schools.

Councillor Andrew Parry, Dorset Council portfolio holder for children, education and early help, said: “Thank you to everyone who completed the survey and shared their views about the future of this important site.

“All views will be carefully considered before a final decision is made.

“We are very ambitious for this site and also for our children and young people with SEND.

“St Mary’s has wonderful facilities and I believe it could be used to provide excellent educational opportunities closer to home to benefit Dorset children and young people.

“Opportunities to secure sites like this for Dorset are very rare. It would cost a great deal more, and take several years, to build an amazing facility like this.”

A wider ranging, ambitious £37.5m plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND and reduce future costs was also unveiled by Dorset Council last week.

The funding has been secured for the next five years to help deliver the council’s aim, set out in its children’s plan, of providing the best education for Dorset children and young people with SEND.