16 new special schools to open across England

The government announced today that new schools providing dedicated support for over 2,000 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are to open in 16 areas across England.

From Bury to Surrey to Solihull, the schools will provide further specialist spaces for pupils whose needs cannot be met in mainstream education. A competition for academy trusts to run the schools will be launched in the coming days.  

The announcement follows investment of £105 million confirmed by the chancellor at this year’s Spring Budget. The government said this is part of its plan to deliver 60,000 more special school places and is helping to increase capacity, following a decrease in pupils in special schools from 1997 to 2010. 

Seven special free schools are one step closer to opening in Merton, Cambridgeshire, Kent, and Norfolk.

The government has opened 108 schools as part of the special free schools programme since 2010, with a further 93 planned to open in future years.

Special schools ensure pupils with special needs such as autism, emotional and behaviour disorders, severe learning difficulties and more can flourish thanks to specially trained teachers, programmes, and equipment.

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.

“We’re creating tens of thousands of special school places since 2010 and today’s 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.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Laura Trott, said: “Every child deserves the chance to reach their full potential.

“That’s why we’re opening 200 Special Schools across the country, ensuring every child receives a best-in-class education.”

 The government has said it is committed to reforming the SEND and Alternative Provision system to ensure earlier intervention, consistent high standards and less bureaucracy through its SEND and AP Improvement Plan.

The government said the Improvement Plan is committed to strengthening protections, and improving the outcomes, for children in unregistered alternative provision.  

A consultation has been launched today for eight weeks setting out proposals to use unregistered alternative provision as an intervention, not a destination, to complement the education provided in school.

It also proposes measures for providers to be subject to new, proportionate quality assurance frameworks, underpinned by national standards. The proposals build on the findings of the government’s previous call for evidence, according to the government.

Responding to this news, 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.

“Sadly, the government’s SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan lacks the scale of funding and ambition needed to change this any time soon, and it is vital that the next government tackles this crisis head-on.

“Without significant investment across the whole system, pupils with SEND will continue to be let down, despite schools’ best efforts.”

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