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Hundreds of New Specialist School Places Planned for SEN Pupils

Published on: 9 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 12 Jul, 2021

Freemantles School in Mayford, Woking. Image – Google Street View

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Nearly 100 badly needed new school places for children with autism have been approved for Surrey.

Included are 72 places at a Woking secondary and 25 at an Elmbridge primary. It is hoped they will be available by September 2022.

Freemantles School, a special school for children and young people with complex social communication needs based in Mayford, will be expanded to accept 72 more pupils in years seven to 14.

In addition, a special educational needs (SEN) unit will be created in a bespoke building at Chandlers Field Primary School in West Molesey, with 25 places across reception to year six.

One parent, responding to the council’s consultation on the Freemantles expansion, said: “There is an urgent need for more places for children like ours – too many are being failed in mainstream settings.

“Given the correct placements, early on in their educational journey, makes a massive difference to these children reaching their potential and, most importantly supports and protects their mental health.”

Cllr Denise Turner-Stewart, cabinet member for education and learning, approved the additional places on Tuesday (July 6) and said it was “wonderful to see”.

They are among around 1,280 specialist places planned for Surrey over the next three years, allowing children in the county to be educated closer to home.

These include 380 in two new special free schools for autism covering key stages one to five, one in Mole Valley and the other in the west of the county.

Demand for specialist places is soaring, with 10,941 children (6.38% of Surrey pupils aged four-16) having an Education Health and Care Plan outlining their additional needs at the end of last year – a 49 per cent increase in just four years.

A council spokesperson said: “There’s been a significant increase in demand for specialist provision, which has led to a historic over-reliance on the independent school sector.”

A specialist place in an independent school costs the council an average of £53,000 a year, compared with £23,000 in a maintained school.

So the new places will save Surrey County Council about £2.91 million a year, helping to reduce a multimillion-pound annual deficit in funding for students who need high levels of support.

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