• Victoria Gallagher

Are Govt’s New ‘Special Free Schools’ The Answer?

Parents of children with special educational needs will know the difficulty of finding a school that can cater to their offspring’s specific requirements. That is why the government recently announced its plans to build an extra 3,500 school places for those who find mainstream education challenging.

Earlier this month, the Department for Education published its intention to create a new school for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in every region of the country. This will include 37 special free schools and two alternative provision free schools, amounting to an additional 3,500 school places for those who need tailored support from teachers, whether they suffer from learning difficulties, mental health problems or have disabilities.

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities. That’s why we are investing significant funding into Special Education Needs units attached to mainstream schools and in additional support so children with education, health and care plans can access mainstream education.”

Mr Hinds was referring to the £100 million of capital funding for councils to create additional places and improve SEND facilities at their mainstream schools, special schools and colleges.

However, Mr Hinds went on to say “some children require more specialist support”, which is why he has committed £250 million of the government’s funding to create special free schools across the country.

The politician stated: “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.”

Of the 37 new special free schools, three will be in the north-east, six in the north-west, five in Yorkshire and the Humber, one in the East Midlands, four in the West Midlands, five in London, three in the south-east, and six in the south-west. Two alternative provision schools will be placed in the West Midlands for 100 kids who have been, or have the potential to be, excluded from mainstream education.

Many parents will be relieved to hear the government’s plans, and will be hoping their child can benefit from the additional school places when they are created.

However, some people believe it is important to stay in mainstream education, wanting their child to be ‘included’ rather than ‘excluded’ from peer groups.

Writing to the Guardian, Dr Robin C Richmond from Bromyard, Herefordshire, said: “The intention in legislation since 1944 had always been that educational provision for children and young people with special needs should, except for good reason, be made in ordinary schools.”

She went on to say progress has been made over the years to improve facilities at state-run schools, sending “an important message about society when children walk through the same school gates”.

Whether a child with SEND is educated in mainstream or special schools, it is essential the establishment is provided with adequate special educational needs consultants who can help teachers get the best out of their pupils, no matter what their learning challenges are.

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