Locations for new special free schools announced

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed the locations of 16 new special schools, with Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Surrey among the areas which will see a new school open. The announcement follows investment of £105 million which was confirmed by the chancellor at this year’s spring budget, and is part of the government’s plan to deliver 60,000 more special school places. This increase in capacity follows a decrease in pupils in special schools from 1997 to 2010, with demand then increasing substantially in recent years. The most recent government figures show that around two-thirds of special schools were at or over capacity in the last academic year.

The 16 new settings will all be free schools. A competition for academy trusts to apply to run the 16 schools will be launched on Monday 13 May. The DfE says this process will also include two other planned special free schools in Cheshire East and the Isle of Wight that were previously approved but where a sponsoring trust has not yet been found.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:?’Special schools can truly transform children’s lives, enabling pupils with special education needs and disabilities to thrive in environments that meet their needs.’ She added that the announcement ‘takes us one step closer to our commitment of a record 60,000 more places for children with additional needs. I know how hard it can be for families trying to navigate the SEND system, and the creation of more brilliant special schools is just one part of our plan to make sure every family and every child get the right support, in the right place at the right time.’

Responding to the government's announcement , Rob Williams, senior policy advisor at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Today's rehashed news does little to address the dire shortage of places in special schools. The new schools will take time to be built, and won't fix the current huge challenges schools and wider social care and health services are facing when it comes to lack of capacity, funding and staffing. The shortage in special school places is leading to some children being inappropriately placed in mainstream settings simply because they have capacity - but they may not have the specialist staff required and do not currently receive the full funding a special school placement would generate, which urgently needs to change. There is fundamentally a glaring mismatch between the increasing numbers of children with special educational needs and the resources available to ensure they get the support and education they deserve.’

For Hampshire County Council, Councillor Steve Forster, the cabinet member for education, said provision in the county had ‘seen immense pressure over several years, with an increasing number of children requiring SEND provision. We remain committed to further developing this across the county to respond to growing demand, creating much needed additional SEND school places. We are delighted that our application for a new special school in Hampshire has been provisionally approved by the DfE and we will be working closely with the department to progress this through the next steps in the process, including determining a suitable location and timeframes.’

As part of its’ SEND and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan, the government also announced a consultation on strengthening protections in unregistered AP. This would involve the introduction of new national standards and a ‘light-touch’ quality assurance framework for these settings. The DfE says the aims will be to ‘deliver a balanced and proportionate approach to protect the children that this diverse sector supports and educates’, and to use unregistered AP ‘as an intervention, not a destination, to complement the education provided in school.’ The consultation, which will run until 5 July 2024, can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/54fwsdyh

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