More than 200 new special school places look set to be created in Essex after the Government approved plans for two free schools and encouraged a formal bid for a third.
Under the proposals, Market Field Learning Community will open and run Chatten Free School – a new 75-place special free school for children aged 3 to 19 who have autism with severe or the most complex learning needs.
A location for the school has yet to be finalised but it is likely to be in mid Essex, and the academy trust hopes it will be open by September 2018.
The other Essex free school bid to be approved was for a new 70-place all-through special school next to the existing Thriftwood College in Chelmsford and was submitted by SEAX Multi-Academy Trust.
The school, which is expected to open in 2018/19, will be specifically for children and young people with autism who have complex needs and high levels of anxiety.
The Department of Education has also approved an initial expression of interest from Essex County Council about the possibility of another special free school on the former St Peter’s College site in Chelmsford.
The council, which hopes the school would create about 70 places for children with social, emotional and mental health needs, will now invite bids from academy trusts interested in running it.
Any final decision on the proposal would be subject to agreement between the Secretary of State and the trust.
The announcements are a huge boost for the county and come as Essex County Council continues with its own record investment in special schools.
About £85million, including £42million from the Essex Schools Forum and up to £43million of capital funding from the council, has been allocated towards creating more special school places in the county over the next three to five years.
An Essex County Council spokesman said: “We are committed to meeting the individual needs of all pupils in Essex and ensuring they receive the best possible education.
“We already have some excellent special schools in the county, however more capacity is still needed to reduce the distance children have to travel to school and meet the needs of the rising number who are being diagnosed with autism.
“The approval of these free schools is a huge boost to our efforts to create a network of special schools that the county can be proud of.”
Gary Smith, Executive Headteacher and CEO of Market Field Learning Community, said: “This is fantastic news.
“We aspire to the ideal of an Essex place for every Essex child and this takes us a big step closer towards this aspiration.”
Sally Davies, Executive Principal and CEO of the SEAX Trust, added: “We are thrilled that after months of discussions and planning the Department for Education have given the approval to open a new school in Chelmsford for 70 children and young people with autism.
“The Trust has been working in partnership with Essex County Council to identify the level of need and a proposed site, which will also include ten residential places, ensuring that more children can remain in Essex with their families.”