A NEW free school for autistic children in Solihull will open within three years, the Education Secretary has pledged.
The Department for Education has agreed a contract with a trust to run the new school, which will have 100 places for children aged 7 to 16 years old.
The special school will be on the site of the former Summerfield pupil referral unit in Smith’s Wood.
Solihull Council put forward a bid to the Department for Education for a school for autistic children on the site of Summerfield, despite the referral unit only opening in 2018.
This week (July 19), the DfE agreed a schedule for 35 new special free schools to open in England from September 2022.
The Forward Education Trust, which runs special schools in Birmingham, will run the free school in Solihull.
Ofsted reports for the trust’s other special schools have rated it ‘well below average’ on most measures.
A proposal for Solihull to have its own autistic free school was agreed with the regional schools commissioner Andrew Warren in March 2019.
At the time, Coun Ken Meeson, cabinet member for education, said: “We know we have comparatively high rates of autism diagnosis in the borough.
“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.”
Following the agreement with the Department for Education, Coun Meeson said: “I am very pleased that Forward Education Trust has been appointed to run Solihull’s new special free school.
“The trust has a good track record of running special schools supporting children and young people with similar needs in other parts of the West Midlands. They have provided us with a clear vision for the new school and have an experienced and skilled team in place to deliver that vision.
“This announcement means we are taking another important step in delivering the Council’s ambitious programme to provide an exceptional educational environment which fully understands and caters for the individual needs of children and young people with autism. We are looking forward to working together with Forward Education Trust to support our children and young people and their families.”
Jane Edgerton, Chief Executive of Forward Education Trust said: “We are delighted to be working with the Department for Education and Solihull Council to create a purpose built school that becomes an integral part of the local community.
“As with all of the schools in our Trust we aim to work as closely as possible with families, the local community, local mainstream and special schools and local businesses.
“We want our schools to reflect the areas they are set within. Each school in our Trust is unique just as each locality and pupil group is unique. Forward Education Trust is committed to giving these amazing young people in Solihull the best possible education we can as well as preparing them for adult life.
“Forward Education Trust specialises in working with young people with the full range of special educational needs and our schools span the age range from 2 to 19 years. Currently our Trust has schools within Birmingham and Worcestershire.”
The Bosworth campus in Smith’s Wood formerly hosted pupil referral units, Summerfield, and the Auckland Education Centre.
The council decided to close the Auckland Education Centre in 2019 following a damning Ofsted report, which rated Auckland ‘inadequate’ on all categories.
Announcing three special schools in the West Midlands, including the Bosworth Campus school, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Now more than ever we need to make sure we are putting our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children first, including those with complex needs.
“We need to be more ambitious for these children, which is why we are delivering on this Government’s commitment to deliver more school places for children with complex special educational needs.
“This will give these young people the opportunity they deserve for tailored support in a school that responds to their individual needs, making them confident learners and engaged students.
“At the same time, I also want to transform the experience of children who have been permanently excluded or are at risk of being removed from the classroom. These new schools, adding to the network of excellent free schools around the country, will help level up opportunities for children from all backgrounds so they can receive a world-class education.”