PLANS for a specialist secondary school for autistic children and young people can move forward after receiving unanimous support from councillors.

Work can start on turning the Cedar Centre, a special school that closed in 2018, into a satellite site for Hill Park, Portslade, a school for children with learning disabilities.

It would provide secondary education for autistic children who do not have learning disabilities but have anxiety and mental health issues.

The proposal is in response to pressure on Brighton and Hove City Council to provide secondary school places for such students.

Dozens do not attend mainstream schools or specialist units within them but are educated outside Brighton and Hove by independent providers.

A report to the children, young people and skills committee on Monday gave more detail about the past 12 months.

It said the number of pupils fitting the criteria had risen from 27 to 44, with the cost rising from £890,000 to £1.44 million today.

Georgina Clarke-Green, assistant director of health, special educational needs and disability services, said: “It’s not good for them, particularly and most importantly, because they’re not here in the city with their peers and their communities.

“Also, in local authority terms, it’s not good value for money. I would prefer investing in our local provision.”

She said it was not possible to have more classrooms or increase class sizes at Hill Park, in Foredown Road, Portslade.

But the council, she said, was looking at other opportunities to expand another of the city’s “outstanding special schools”.

Hill Park head Rachel Burstow said the old Cedar Centre site, in Lynchet Close, Hollingdean, would not look like a school but would include a hairdressers, café and allotment.

She said parents were already contacting her to secure places at the new centre because existing places were oversubscribed.

The Argus: The Cedar Centre was a specialist school before it closed in 2018The Cedar Centre was a specialist school before it closed in 2018

She said: “There are students that cannot manage mainstream. Anything that looks school-like is very anxiety-provoking for them. The focus of the new provision is that we’re going to make it look least like a formal school setting as we can both inside and out.”

Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown said: “We have 44 young people fitting this profile and we were concerned that perhaps 30 places may still be short – but there are other plans in mind.

“This satellite school will make a saving for the council but that is not the most important consideration. We do believe this will be a far better option for our young people who will be able to stay in the city.”

Labour councillor Les Hamilton backed the project but raised concerns about special educational needs provision in mainstream schools.

He said: “I do hope, as well as this ‘high needs’ money going into this, that there will be some provision to increase the amount of education that some of my constituents’ children are having because they are not getting what I would think is a fair crack at the whip.

“I hope the high needs money can go towards helping these children who often need virtually one-to-one attention, which financially the schools have a job to provide.”

Building work is expected to start next January, with students due to join the school next September.