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Approval paves way for new special free school

The County Council has welcomed the news that its application for a new special free school in Whiteley has been provisionally approved by the Department for Education (DfE).

The application will now move to a second stage and, if finally approved, will pave the way for a new 125-place, co-educational school for 4-16 year olds with severe learning disabilities.

Councillor Steve Forster, the County Council’s Executive Member for Education, said: “The County Council has a statutory duty to ensure all children can access high-quality education, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This is an area that has seen immense pressure over several years, with an increasing number of children requiring SEND provision. We are committed to further developing this across the county to respond to growing demand, creating much needed additional SEND school places.

“We are delighted that our application for a new free special school in Whiteley has been provisionally approved by the DfE and we will be working closely with the department to progress this through the next steps in the process. Promisingly, this news comes shortly after the DfE announced it has provisionally prioritised seven of the county’s schools for major works as part of the School Rebuilding Programme. We are dedicated to making the case for Government investment in Hampshire’s educational estate and it is pleasing to see these efforts continuing to be rewarded and recognised.”

In the autumn budget, the Government announced it will build up to 60 new centrally delivered Special and Alternative Provision free schools as part of a £2.6 billion capital investment in school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). These schools are to be delivered over three years up to 2025 and are intended to create around 4,500 additional special school places.

As part of Hampshire’s SEND Strategy for 2023-2027, the County Council bid to the DfE for two new free Special Schools under this programme; one in Whiteley and one in Boorley Gardens. Free schools, also known as academies, are schools that are funded by the Government but are not run by the Local Authority. The current expectation by the DfE is that every new school will be a free school.

While the application for Boorley Gardens was unsuccessful, provision has been made within the Children’s Services Capital Programme to fund this scheme and so the County Council will continue to progress this using its own resources.

For the Whiteley school, land has been made available and feasibility work is currently ongoing. The plans will now proceed to the second stage of the application process, which will see academy trusts invited to apply to sponsor the school.

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