Learning about a Special Free School for Northumberland

Northumberland County Council has run an event for trusts that could be interested in running a new Special Free School in the county.

By Ian Smith
Tuesday, 21 May, 2019, 13:31
The special free school event in Blyth.

The council was successful in a bid to the Government to establish a new special school and received approval to move to the next stage of the process.

A new free special school would be established by the council in conjunction with the Department for Education and, in line with the requirements of the initiative, it has to be run by an academy trust.

The new special school is set to provide places for secondary age young people who have autism and social, emotional and mental health needs.

As required by the Department for Education, there is a formal competition for a trust to run the school, and this week the council’s children’s services team ran an engagement event where any organisation with an interest was invited to come along to find out more.

Attendees were welcomed by Cllr Wayne Daley, deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services at the council, and presentations were made by council officers and the New Schools Network - an independent charity which provides advice and resources for those interested in starting a free school.

There were also opportunities to visit the site of the proposed school which is the former Princess Louise First School site in Blyth. In order for its bid to be successful, the council had to identify a site which it owns and which could be leased on a peppercorn rent for 125 years to the successful trust.

The Government encourages local authorities to work together on joint bids and while Northumberland submitted this bid, if the project goes ahead there will be a proportion of places for pupils from the neighbouring authorities of North Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead, making Blyth an ideal location for the school.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director of adult social care and children's services, said: “There is a high level of need for new special school places for young people with complex needs in Northumberland.

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“We have been very pleased to be successful in our bid to Government for a new school and, having been successful, we have reached the competitive bidding stage of the process.

“We hope that this event has stimulated interest in the running of the school, and answered questions that schools and academy trusts may have.

“We will be working hard to find a suitable partner organisation, as success in this project will make a huge difference to the lives of young people with special needs in our county, as well as to their families.”

Northumberland has seen a 50% increase in the number of children with complex needs since 2013 and the number of children and young people in maintained special schools has also increased by 32% in this period.

This has resulted in demand for specialist educational places outstripping existing capacity. To meet this demand, Northumberland County Council has already created additional school places at Hexham Priory and Ashdale special schools.

A free school is a non-profit-making, independent, state-funded school which is free to attend but which is not wholly controlled by the local authority. The council would still commission and fund the places required for young people from Northumberland.

Bid documents are available on the council’s website and the deadline for applications is Monday, September 30, 2019.