The new schools were announced by Gavin Williamson earlier this month as three of 35 special free schools to be opened across the country. The Department for Education’s estimations on places needed indicate that by 2022 areas of Northumberland could need as many as 200 more primary places while by 2024 Darlington could need up to 600, Middlesbrough up to 900 and Stockton may need over 900 new places. While these are total numbers of places needed the pressure on SEND is acute with the region having the second highest proportion of SEND pupils in the country, at 12.8% while the England average is 12.1%.
River Tees Multi-Academy Trust will set up one of the schools in partnership with Darlington, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton councils. Spark of Genius will be setting up a school in Hartlepool, while another school based in Northumberland will be run by Prosper Learning Trust.
Christina Jones, Chief Executive Officer of River Tees Multi-Academy Trust, said: “We are very excited to be able to open a new free special school for the Tees Valley. River Tees Multi-Academy Trust has a great track record of achieving outstanding outcomes for learners who face additional challenges. We combine academic and therapeutic approaches to ensure every learner can achieve their potential. We also offer training and outreach support to other schools and this will be a key feature for the new school, helping learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to access the fullest range of opportunities both in school and their local community.”
Jennifer McCreery, Trust Operations Manager at Prosper Learning Trust said ‘Free schools are providing capacity for systems that are over-subscribed and over-extended especially in the special and alternative provision sector and being part of a Trust that is concentrating on those sectors is very exciting.’
Zak McIlhargey, Managing Director of Spark of Genius Trust added: ‘Spark of Genius are honoured to be taking forward this exciting and much needed new provision. This addition of new special Free School places in the North East is a much needed boost and will help to ensure that fewer young people with additional needs have to travel far from their homes to be educated, a situation that has occurred for a number of reasons including the soaring demand for special school placements. With new places made available, young people can receive this valuable education in their own community areas, vastly contributing to an increase in their wellbeing, emotional resilience and natural support networks and improving their chances of success when they move on from school. As a longstanding provider of education and support for young people with SEMH, we are committed to improving the life chances of every child and family we work with, and the Free school offers a new and unique opportunity to do so. We look forward to working very closely with the council, with the Department of Education, with the residents, groups and businesses of Hartlepool, with parents and carers and with the young people themselves in achieving the highest quality of education for young people in Hartlepool who need it the most.’