Government announces new special free schools in response to SEND crisis

The government has chosen seven new special free schools to help address huge levels of unmet need among children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

The schools, in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Merton and Norfolk, will be built alongside the existing 83 already committed to opening across England.

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Once complete, this investment will more than double the number of special free school places available across the country – from around 8,500 to 19,000.

The crisis in the SEND system has seen huge demand for special schools tailored to meet the needs of children with conditions such as autism, many of whom are failed by the mainstream education system.

Reports last year suggested more than half of all special schools were oversubscribed, with more pupils than the number commissioned by their local council.

In a further announcement, local authorities across England have been selected to deliver a new programme to test and refine the reforms to services for young people and families. Backed by £70m, the councils will help inform the development of new national standards.

Each area will also develop an inclusion plan that sets out how they will deliver local services in a co-ordinated way, in response to feedback from families that the current system is often fragmented with agencies not working together.

High needs funding is increasing by £440m in 2024/25, bringing total funding to £10.5bn – an increase of more than 60% since 2019/20.

Despite this increased funding, many councils are struggling to both meet children’s needs and erase huge financial deficits accumulated through sustained underfunding, particularly the government’s extension of eligibility for SEND support in 2014 without providing additional funding.

Claire Coutinho, minister for children, families and wellbeing, said: ‘Making sure children with special educational needs and disabilities get a superb education is a priority.

‘Earlier this year our Improvement Plan set out systemic reforms to make sure every child and young person gets consistently high-quality support, no matter where in the country they live.

‘We’re making sure that those reforms are informed by the experiences of real families, up and down the country, and creating the thousands of new places at specialist schools and in staff training courses that are needed to make sure our plan is a success.’

The government also confirmed an expansion in training for early years staff, adding an extra 2,000 training places for early years special educational needs co-ordinators on top of the 5,000 already announced.

Image: Heidi Fin

More on this topic:

New report reveals unequal disability rates between education groups


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