A special needs school in Stevenage warned parents of partial closure due to staff shortages this week, as the local authority meanwhile consults on plans to increase pupil capacity at the school by 20 places.

Annemari Ottridge, the headteacher of Lonsdale School - for children aged three to 19 with complex physical and neurological special educational needs - warned parents on Monday that the school had reached a "critical point" in staff absence, which may result in partial closure of the school.

In a letter to parents, she wrote: "Dynamic decisions on staffing levels have been made dependent on numbers/needs of students present in school on a daily basis.

"Staffing levels are constantly reviewed to ensure adequate number of staff in attendance to maintain an appropriate ratio with pupils and ensure key competencies, eg first aid, are maintained.


"Options such as supply staff, splitting classes and SLT [senior leadership team] cover are required, and implemented, to mitigate the current high level of staff absence.

"However, we have now reached the critical point and the school will now need to consider partial closure for some days for this week, unless the staff attendance improves."

She said lunchtimes are "particularly difficult" due to the high level of individual support needs across the school, and it may be necessary to finish the school day at 12.30pm "under these exceptional circumstances."

Meanwhile, Hertfordshire County Council is currently consulting the public on plans to close the residential accommodation at Lonsdale on August 31 next year and increase the number of day places by 20.


The school's residential provision has not been fully operational since March 2020, initially due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently due to the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust being unable to provide nursing support as a result of staff shortages, the county council explained.

"The school has since identified that the residential provision is no longer sustainable," the local authority said. In March this year, the school's residential provision was inspected by Ofsted and graded as ‘requires improvement to be good'.

A parent whose son attends Lonsdale said: "In the same week that a consultation is happening to close the residential provision at the school and increase its places for day students by 20, [we get this letter about partial closure]. It can't cope with the current students' needs."

A county council spokesperson said: "Lonsdale School currently has a number of staff unexpectedly off sick, and because of the specialist nature of the school it is hard to find suitably qualified supply staff at short notice.


"The school has made some changes to teaching and timetabling to manage the pressure caused by staff absences, and parents are being kept fully informed of this.

"Hopefully staff will be able to return to work shortly and the school can return to normal operation.

"This is only a temporary problem and doesn’t affect the proposed enlargement of the school, which will include recruiting additional staff."