A NEW free school for vulnerable children with autism in Solihull will ‘likely open’ in two years.
Solihull Council has been given the green light by the government’s Department for Education to establish the school to support the rapidly increasing number of autistic children in the borough.
The new school, which the council says is likely to be open in two years, will have up to 100 places for children and young people with autism aged between seven and 16 years old.
The council’s preferred option is for a dual site school with locations to cater to children in both the north and south of Solihull.
It will provide an ‘outstanding education’ for pupils attending the school together with support for children with autism at mainstream schools through an assessment centre based at the new site.
Councillor Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, said: “We know we have comparatively high rates of autism diagnosis in the borough.
“This funding means we can take an important step in delivering the council’s ambitious programme.
“For those pupils with more complex needs, creating a special free school will mean we can better meet current and future demand for places, whilst also extending local choice.
“On a practical level it also means we can educate more children and young people nearer to their homes.
“Spending less time being transported to and from school means they should receive a better learning experience.”
In line with DfE guidance, the council can now start advertising the opportunity for potential trusts to apply to establish the new school. The specification will be published on the council website.
Solihull has 1,444 pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
EHCPs provide those aged up to 25 with a document outlining the support they need for their education – including advice from doctors and psychologists.
In January last year, 558 (nearly two fifths) of Solihull pupils with an EHCP have autism as their primary need, this is forecast to rise by 296 (over a half) by 2023.
The current and projected rate is significantly above national and regional levels.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
“But we recognise some children require more specialist support.
“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.”
Director of the council for disabled children Dame Christine Lenehan said: “We are pleased to welcome the new wave of special free schools and the extra choice they will bring to the system for children with special educational needs.
“We look forward to seeing them working in partnership with parents, children and local agencies to deliver the best outcomes for children.”