Budget breaking news: 15 new special schools to be built in England

  • 6th March 2024

Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced plans for 15 new SEND schools in England. Picture by Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street

Fifteen new special free schools will be built in England at a cost of £105m, Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced in today’s Spring Budget.

However, this was one of the few education-related commitments in his speech, drawing criticism from education leaders.

In budget documents, the Treasury said it was ‘committing an initial £105m towards a wave of 15 new special free schools to create over 2,000 additional places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) across England’.

“This will help more children receive a world-class education and builds on the significant levels of capital funding for SEND,” Hunt said.

Locations for the schools will be announced in May, he added.

The Government also confirmed the location of 20 alternative provision free schools, which were originally announced as part of a £2.6bn capital investment at the 2021 spending review.

However, critics have said this will go nowhere near meeting the shortage of SEND places in many areas.

Commenting on his speech, which centred on tax cuts for workers and parents, Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the chancellor ‘spent more time name-checking film stars than he did on education’.

She added: “A building programme for special schools is welcome, but does not address the wider crisis in special educational needs funding.”

The only other announcements which impact on the education sector include the announcement that the household support fund – which has been used by some councils to provide school uniform support or holiday meals – will be extended from April to September at a cost of £500m; and that the Government will spend £75m over three years from 2025 to expand the violence reduction unit model across England and Wales, which enable health boards, schools, and police leaders to co-ordinate joint strategies to tackle violence among young people.

But there was no mention of the National Tutoring Programme, suggesting funding for subsidised tuition will come to an end this summer as planned.

If this happens schools will be expected to use pupil premium funding if they want to keep these going.

Nick Brook, who chairs the Department for Education’s tutoring advisory group, said the failure to fund it at the budget has ‘brought the curtain crashing down on the programme, the only response of merit from [the Government’s} woeful post-COVID education recovery plan’.

“Schools will undoubtedly do their upmost to maintain levels of support for their most-disadvantaged pupils,” he added.

“But, with dwindling resources, it is abundantly clear that this decision will result in the volume of tutoring plummeting.”

There was also no mention of funding for national professional qualifications, which comes to an end at the end of this academic year.

Responding to the Chancellor’s Spring Budget, Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said she was ‘disappointed’ at a lack of financial support for early years and education, adding: Research published this week by EPI found that pupils are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with those from poorer families struggling the most to catch up.

“If the Government is serious about delivering a world-class education for all, it needs to prioritise spending in the early years, targeted to families who need it the most, as well as a sufficiently-funded high-quality universal offer. It also needs to prioritise funding for disadvantaged pupils in schools and colleges. This includes increasing funding and support for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), providing mental health support in schools, and considering how best to support schools to offer an extended school day.

“But we also cannot expect schools in isolation to fix all of society’s problems.

“The increase to the child benefit threshold [from £50,000 to £60,0000] is a positive step, but there is an urgent need for a cross-government child poverty strategy which recognises the root causes of education inequalities such as poverty, housing, healthcare, transport, and many other aspects of daily life.”

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