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Government backs bid for a new special free school in Dorset

A bid by Dorset County Council for a new special free school in the county has been backed by the Department for Education (DfE).

Ministers announced that 39 new schools will open across the country as part of plans to create 3,500 additional school places for pupils with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties, mental health conditions, and those at risk of being excluded from mainstream schools.

Local authorities were invited to bid for a new school and Dorset was one of six successful councils in the South West region. The special free school will support up to 75 young people aged 14-19 with autism and complex learning difficulties.

Andrew Reid, Dorset County Council’s Assistant Director for Schools and Learning, said:

“This is fantastic news. We want to provide more specialist provision here in Dorset, as there are a lot of young people who currently have to travel outside of the county to receive the support they need. The new school will mean pupils spend less time travelling and will be educated closer to their families and local communities.

“It will also mean that we won’t have to rely as much on independent placements, which will help ease some of the pressure on schools’ high needs funding.

“Most importantly, this new school will offer young people a great education, encourage them be the best they can be and help them prepare for adulthood.”

The council will now prepare to advertise the opportunity for potential trusts to apply to establish the new school. Mr Reid added:

“This project is still in its early stages but we’re delighted that the Government has recognised the need for more special school provision in Dorset. We will now begin work with the DfE to identify the best location for this new school and invite academy trusts to apply to run it.”

This latest announcement by the Government builds on the county council’s plan to provide more support for children with complex communication needs. Last year, the council committed to invest over £2M (plus a £1M grant from central Government) in creating a number of specialist bases in mainstream schools.

A new special school is also due to open in Bovington this September. Funded by the DfE, it will provide places for another 160 children with autism, as well as social emotional and mental health needs. The school will support pupils from Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole.