Cornwall’s political head of children’s care has warned people about believing “quarter truths” on Facebook when it comes to future funding of one of the Duchy’s oldest and best known special education schools, writes Lee Trewhela local democracy reporter.

Cornwall Council has proposed to scrap funding which allows children with special education needs and disabilities to board at Pencalenick School near Tresillian, on the outskirts of Truro, while their families gain some respite.

The local authority wants to stop special educational needs (SEN) residential provision at the school, which has around 142 secondary school pupils.

It says the £563,000 per year it currently gives to Special Schools Partnership Trust (SSPT), which runs the school, could be used to create specialist SEN education ‘day places’ instead, “where there is need in Cornwall”.

The consultation has been met with consternation by some families. Lisa Trerise De-Bargeton, whose 14-year-old son boards at the school one night a week, said: “As you can imagine it is devastating news for our children that access this facility. My son has gained so much independence and social skills from boarding here just one night a week. To have that taken away will be devastating.”

At a meeting of Cornwall Council’s children and families scrutiny committee on Wednesday (May 22), its chairman Cllr James Mustoe addressed the Conservative cabinet’s portfolio holder for children Barbara Ellenbroek after saying he’d received correspondence and seen “various things” on social media around the proposed changes to board and provision at Pencalenick.

Saying he believed there maybe 40 pupils currently boarding at the school, Cllr Mustoe added: “I wondered if you’d elaborate please on what those changes are and how people can comment on them?”

Cllr Ellenbroek responded: “Social media is very good at telling quarter truths – I’ve seen something which says this affects 40 children. It absolutely does not.

“It’s very important to emphasise this is simply a consultation. It is a facility which costs this council a lot of money, from which in actual fact – despite what Facebook might say – I think there’s a maximum of ten children that currently use the facility intermittently. Also, perhaps more importantly, none of those children or young people actually have overnight stays within their care plans.

“It’s something I realise is appreciated by parents but not necessarily actually a necessity for the development of those children. No final decision has been made or will be made until such time as the consultation is finished.”

She added: “The other thing I would say is that I will remind everybody that we did in fact have a consultation on 16 routes that potentially were going to be changed for children travelling to and from school, and following that consultation we actually decided not to go ahead with it, so again I reiterate a consultation is not a conclusion.”

Eveleen Riordan, the council’s service director for education and community health, said two public meetings were being proposed before the consultation ends on June 10.

She told the committee: “It’s not a done deal. We want to understand from all parents, carers and all interested parties, their views on these Pencalenick boarding facilities. We have looked into it and there are quite a small number of children and young people accessing the provision. It’s not a boarding facility as such in terms of boarding while at school. It’s much more spread out than that and we’ve got to look really carefully at how we spend public money with the best effect for children and young people with SEND (special educational needs and disability).”

Cllr Mustoe added: “From what I understand this is funding that could potentially be used for day places for children across Cornwall and not just for those who currently use Pencalenick.”

“That’s correct,” replied Ms Riordan. “We are seeing rising numbers, so we’ve really got to look carefully at our budgets and how we best exercise their discharge in terms of making sure we are providing proper education for our pupils and as close to home as possible as well.”

If the proposals are approved, it is anticipated that the boarding facility at Pencalenick School would close at the end of the current academic year. The proposals are not expected to adversely impact on SEN education day provision at Pencalenick.

To provide feedback about the proposals, you will need to do so by 5pm on June 10. You can make your thoughts known in the online consultation questionnaire, available here: