Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced the creation of 39 new schools throughout England in a bid to boost educational provision for children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The initiative aims to provide around 3,500 additional places in this sector. Along with previously agreed commitments on the part of the government, this will bring the total of special free schools in England to 125.
Hinds said: “We recognise some children require more specialist support. These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided to help support every child to have a quality education.”
Competitions will now open in the 39 successful local authorities to find providers – including community groups, teachers, charities, existing education providers and other organisations – that will run them.
The news comes at a time when there is what many perceive as a crisis in educational provision for children and young people requiring additional support across the UK.
Contact is a charity which supports families with disabled children and it operates in Scotland, England and Wales. Responding to the announcement Jill Hardman, Contact SEND parent adviser, said: “We welcome any additional funding in the area because we know from calls to our helpline that the system is under pressure.”
Hardman said that there is a growing shortage of places in special schools for children with additional needs and part of that pressure is down to mainstream schools not providing the support needed to children with special needs.
“More and more parents are being told by schools that they don’t have the resources to support their child,” she added. “The number of teaching assistants is being cut, and it is harder than ever to access specialist help such as speech and language therapy. We hope the additional schools provide extra choice for families.”
The schools add to the 34 special and 42 AP (alternative provision) free schools already open, and come on top of a further 54 special and 12 AP free schools approved in a previous application rounds, which will open in future. The total number of special free schools will come to 125 upon completion, according to the Department for Education.