Seven new schools for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are to be built in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Merton and Norfolk, the government has announced.
The seven extra schools – totalling over 1,000 places – have been approved through the “safety valve” route, a written agreement by the Department for Education that individual local authorities will be bailed out if they over-spend their high needs budgets.
These new schools will add to the existing 83 already committed to opening, located across England from Devon to Darlington, which will double the number of special free school places available across the country.
The National Autistic Society said that it welcomed this increase in the number of schools specifically for children and young people with SEND, but said it was not enough on its own to fix the lack of school places and support for autistic children in all types of schools across England.
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research, said: “Nearly three quarters of autistic children and young people are educated in mainstream schools, yet our research shows many autistic pupils are being failed by a lack of appropriate school places and the right support at school to meet their needs.
“Every teacher needs to understand autism, and every autistic child needs to get the right support at school. That’s why we’re calling on the government to launch an autism school places taskforce to ensure the right school places and support are available for autistic pupils.”
New national standards to improve the consistency of provision
The government has also announced the development of new national standards to improve the consistency of provision across the country, backed by a £70 million investment.
There will also be 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.
Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho 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.
“Today 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.”