Search for partner to run Northumberland's special free school

Blyth has been revealed as the location of a new special school, following Northumberland County Council’s successful bid to the Government.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 10 April, 2019, 09:03
Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for childrens services.

The local authority submitted a bid last October for an 80-place secondary school for young people who have autism and social, emotional and mental health needs, as part of the Department for Education’s Special Free School initiative.

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

It was recently revealed that Northumberland had been successful in its bid and, at its meeting yesterday (April 9), the cabinet agreed to begin a formal competition for a trust which would run the school.

Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services, highlighted that Northumberland has seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of pre-school children with complex needs since 2013 and the number of pupils in special schools has risen by 32 per cent in this period.

“I’m delighted and I would like to recognise the work of the staff to get us to this stage,” he said. “Next is getting that partner with a really successful track record that we can work with.”

Council leader Peter Jackson added: “I absolutely commend the work of the staff in getting to this stage.

“There’s a real structural issue of increasing numbers of young people with special educational needs and, as a local authority, we are at the forefront of tackling this.”

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The council has already created additional school places at Hexham Priory and Ashdale (a new satellite site of The Dales in Ashington), but the free school would provide another 80 for secondary-age pupils.

The proposed site is the former Princess Louise First School site in Blyth as, in order for the 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.

The Government encouraged local authorities to work together on joint bids and while Northumberland’s neighbouring council declined the offer to do so, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead did commit to commissioning places in the new school if the bid was successful. Therefore, 30 places have been allocated for out-of-county pupils.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director of adult and children’s services at Northumberland County Council, said: “There is an urgent need to further increase school places for young people with complex needs.

“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.”

Bid documents will be available on the council’s website from today (April 10) and the deadline for applications is Monday, September 30.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service