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Penhale Infant School is set to open a brand new inclusion centre at the start of the new autumn term, to provide more facilities for children with special educational needs (SEN), as part of Portsmouth City Council’s £3.5m investment in inclusive education approved earlier this year.

The £1.1m centre is for children who need additional support with their learning, and will be an integral part of Penhale Infant School.

Cllr Suzy Horton, the council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Families & Education, said: “The purpose of the inclusion centre is to enable children with SEN who need more support than is normally available in a mainstream school to be educated as an integral part of the school so that they can benefit from aspects of the mainstream school experience as well as having additional specialist support.

“This is part of a range of initiatives aimed at making even more improvements to education for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in Portsmouth and we’re very proud of our approach of enabling children with special needs to be educated within mainstream schools where possible.”

Anna Webb, executive head of Penhale Infant and Newbridge Junior Schools, said: “My team and I are very excited about the new inclusion centre, which we have named the Rainbow Fish Centre. Thank you to everyone at the inclusion service in Portsmouth City Council who we have worked closely with to deliver the new facility.”

Natalie Sheppard, director of education at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust in Portsmouth, said: “The Rainbow Fish Centre offers an exciting opportunity for students to learn in a safe and inclusive environment within our school. The children will be able to begin their educational journey closely connected to a mainstream environment before they continue learning with new specialist provision being developed at the Portsmouth Academy. This will offer an all-through pathway within the Thinking Schools Academy Trust family of schools.”

The development follows other specialist school places being created for children with more complex needs at Mary Rose, Cliffdale Primary and Redwood Park academies, and comes after the council made £100,000 available to help 21 mainstream schools in Portsmouth to become even more inclusive for children with special needs.

As the new term starts, the council continues to work closely with Portsmouth schools to help to ensure that they will continue to be open to all year groups, following government and local guidance to minimise disruption to education and making sure school buildings and classrooms are as safe as possible – but also feel familiar and normal.

Cllr Horton said: “Things might look a little different in school as restrictions have eased, and each school will have their own plans for testing, return dates and infection control. It is very important to follow the guidance. Please check out your child’s school website for details and continue to keep each other safe.

“With restrictions easing it may seem as if coronavirus has gone away, but we can all still take actions to stop the spread. I encourage people of all ages to protect Portsmouth by using tissues to catch and bin coughs and sneezes, continue with frequent hand washing, and use twice weekly lateral flow tests if they are eligible. If you are a parent or carer of a 16 or 17 year old, please urge them to take up the jab. Vaccines are safe, effective and vital in helping to limit the spread of the virus.”