CHILDREN and families will be "involved every step of the way" a Wigan Council boss has pledged as major reforms to special educational needs facilities have moved a step closer.

Cabinet members have backed outline plans to invest an estimated £34m to both refurbish current special schools and improve support for youngsters in mainstream schooling.

The reforms will go out to public consultation with the town hall urging residents to have their say.

The proposals to address "condition and capacity issues" at the borough’s current special schools could see relocation considered for some sites.

A report from director for children and families, James Winterbottom, said demand for special educational needs and disability (SEND) places will increase by 35 per cent by 2036.

In a statement issued after the authority’s cabinet voted to approve the proposals on Thursday, Cllr Jenny Bullen, said: “It is essential that we put the right plans in place for our future SEND provision.

“This is not just about buildings but about a whole-system transformation programme which ensures provision, whether it is in specialist schools or mainstream education, is the highest quality it can be for our children and young people.”

The town hall says demand for places is outstripping the borough’s current provision at specialist sites and mainstream schools are ‘struggling to maintain their previous high levels of inclusivity.’

The cost of placing youngsters outside of the borough is increasing significantly adding to wider budget pressures, the report adds.

Coun Bullen, cabinet member for children and young people, added: “We would encourage anyone who has a connection and interest in this to get involved with the consultation once it is launched.

“We know it is absolutely crucial to involve children and families every step of the way and we will continue working with them to design our services around their needs.”

The project could be delivered over the next five years with £10m required to start the first phase.

Capital funds already earmarked for school places could cover the initial costs with section 106 payments from housing developers an option for extra cash, the report said.

Mr Winterbottom said: “The transformation plan is about increasing capacity in the system.

“We have increasing demand for special school places and despite a lack of investment from national government we are working to ensure we invest locally in the quality provision our children deserve.

“This is an investment model, not a cuts agenda and includes, but goes beyond, renovating and relocating schools as necessary.”