Both schools will be for pupils with Profound, Severe and Complex Needs – one in Swanley for 250 children and the other in Whitstable for 120. The proposals were included in KCC’s current Commissioning Plan for Education Provision.
The County Council submitted the bids as part of its Safety Valve submission to the Department for Education (DfE) last Autumn. The green light comes just a few months after work began on building a special school on Sheppey, to be run by the Sabden Multi-Academy Trust.
“Our successful bids will enable more children to go to a school that meets their needs closer to where they live”
KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Cllr. Rory Love, said: “This announcement by the DfE is fantastic news for Kent and for many parents of children who have profound Special Education Needs.
“The school in Swanley is required as both schools serving these needs in North Kent are currently full, and the population continues to grow.
“The school in Whitstable is needed because children living locally who require a special school place are having to travel to Thanet or Sittingbourne.
“Our successful bids will enable more children to go to a school that meets their needs closer to where they live. Having local schools will save the children up to an hour of needless travelling every day, cut transport emissions, and reduce the transport cost burden for council taxpayers.”
Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho, said: “Making sure children with special educational needs and disabilities get a superb education is a priority.
“Earlier this year our Improvement Plan set out systemic reforms to make sure every child and young person gets consistently high-quality support, no matter where in the country they live.
“Today we’re making sure that those reforms are informed by the experiences of real families, up and down the country, and creating the thousands of new places at specialist schools and in staff training courses that are needed to make sure our plan is a success.”
Cllr. Julia Thornton, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council, said: “We are delighted that Swanley will be the home for a new school for children with profound Special Education Needs.
“The new school, serving much of the Sevenoaks District and beyond, will improve the quality of life for those children who, as things stand, do not have access to a special school or who have to travel many miles to access one.”
As part of the application for the new special free schools in Kent, KCC provided a draft school specification document setting out the key facts of each school.
The next stage in the process is to advertise the opportunity for trusts to apply to open the new schools. The assessment of trust applications will be centrally run by DfE, with some local authority involvement.
Cllr. Rory Love added: “The final decision to open any free school is down to the Secretary of State. We welcome the DfE’s ambition that only the highest quality trusts will be appointed to run these schools.
“We will be organising engagement events as part of our work to generate high-quality applications. At these events, KCC will set out more details for prospective applicants about the context of local SEND provision and share our vision of the important role the schools will play within Kent.”
Proposer groups will have until 3rd November 2023 to submit their applications. Department officials will continue to work with KCC to secure sites, carry out necessary surveys and progress the feasibility phase of the project.