++Demand for special schools rockets with 14,000 new places needed by 2026++
++Councils invited to set up new special schools to meet 15% increase in demand++
New Schools Network (NSN) welcomes the Department for Education’s (DfE) unveiling of a new process to set up special free schools. The new process will create more special schools as local authorities, supported by the Department for Education, are able to invite free school proposer groups to bid to open a new school in the area. Previously, free school groups bid directly to the Department for Education, rather than via the local authority.
The new process is announced as the number of special school places is set to rocket, with latest data showing 14,000 new places will be needed by 2026. At the moment, there are 90,000 special school places in England, with the increase therefore representing a 15% leap in demand.
Last November, LAs were asked for the first time to submit an ‘Expression of Interest’ (EOI) to the DfE for new special free schools in their region, including details on the size of school, the special needs it would cater for and the age range.
In the latest round of free school approvals earlier this year, 19 EOIs were approved and as a result the LAs concerned are now inviting applications from special school providers, such as charitable trusts already running successful special schools.
While the set up process for these schools will be slightly different, the assessment criteria are similar to the standard free school application process and the lion’s share of the capital cost will be met by the DfE. Groups interested in running these schools will submit their applications to the relevant LAs and the DfE, with the Education Secretary making the final decision.
Toby Young, director of NSN, said: “There is a huge demand for more special schools and we need to be as flexible as possible about the way in which they’re set up in order to increase supply. We have already seen some outstanding special schools opened through the free school process, such as the Churchill School in Haverhill, but we need many more. Any specialist groups interested in setting up one of these schools, including one of the 19 already approved, should contact NSN and we will guide them through the process.”
To date, 23 special schools have been opened through the free school process, with another 46 in the pipeline. Together, these will create more than 6,500 new places. However, the need for more new special schools will increase dramatically over the next eight years. At present, there are 90,000 places in special schools, but we need a further 14,000 between now and 2025 to meet the projected need.
Some LAs have already embraced the free school process as a means of meeting this need. In Essex, the authority worked closely with two applicant groups in the most recent round of applications to ensure suitable provision for all pupils with special educational needs. The first, The Hawthorns, will be a 60-place special school for students aged 5-19 with complex autistic needs which present significant barriers to learning and development.
The second, the Chatten Free School, was designed in conjunction with an existing Outstanding school, Marketfield School. This provision will offer 65 places for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and severe learning difficulties.
Sarah Day, co-founder of the Chatten Free School which was approved to open earlier this year, said: “Giving parents and community groups the opportunity to instigate new SEND provision in their area is an incredibly valuable and empowering one. There can be so much you can feel hopeless over, but the free school scheme is a game changer for parents and groups like us. Children who are severely and profoundly affected by SEN require an education far removed from any recognisable academic curriculum. What more powerful way to help secure your child’s future than to create a school which meets those needs?”
Cllr Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We are committed to meeting the individual needs of all pupils in Essex and ensuring they receive the best possible education. We already have some excellent special schools in the county, however more capacity is still needed to reduce the distance children have to travel to school and meet the needs of the rising number who are being diagnosed with autism.”
To read the full press release including notes please click here.