South Tyneside Special Free School

Contextual information for applicant groups applying to open a new Special Free School

Published: May 2023, South Tyneside Council


The Department for Education is inviting applications from proposer groups to open a new special free school in South Tyneside.

Applicant groups can access the key school specification information, along with the full 'How to Apply' guidance, on GOV.UK. You should read these documents carefully before completing mandatory pre-registration.

The school specification document sets out the key factual details about the proposed school, including:

  • the proposed size,
  • SEND designation,
  • age range,
  • suggested top-up funding, and
  • proposed site.

This document provides applicant groups with additional contextual information provided by South Tyneside Council, which includes:

  • The rationale, context and need for the school;
  • Details on the commissioning of places, including the involvement of any other local authority's commissioning places;
  • A brief description of the existing provision in the area;
  • Future expected growth in pupil numbers; and
  • How the local authority expects places within the school to be filled.

Rationale, context and need for the school, including proposed commissioning arrangements

Our SEND Joint Strategic Needs and Assets Assessment (JSNAA), refreshed in 2021, identified a 42% increase in SEMH needs between 2015 and 2020 across all sectors, including primary.

The emerging evidence is that the pandemic has increased the severity and complexity of need, particularly for our youngest children. 

South Tyneside has increased capacity in 2021 to 2022 to 3 of its existing special schools, 2 of its additional resource bases (ARBs) and created a new primary 13 place SEMH ARB at one of the borough's primary schools.

Whilst the increased capacity has relieved some of the pressure on places there is a clear need for specialist provision for those children whose needs are more complex or more challenging than can be catered for in mainstream and alternative resource base settings.

The new primary SEMH provision would also provide a clearer route through to Park View School, our secondary 11 to 16 SEMH provision for those children where this is appropriate.  

There is a value for money argument for the new school which is centred on providing specialist placements within the borough which will deliver wider financial benefits but also reduced travelling time for pupils currently placed in out of borough provisions.

In South Tyneside, there has been a sharp rise in the number of pupils with SEMH as their primary need and projections up to 2025 show that this trend is likely to continue.

Park View School is a special school providing for secondary age pupils whose primary need is SEMH. There is currently no primary SEMH special school.

The shortage of specialist primary places within the borough has led to an increasing number of primary pupils with EHCPs for SEMH who require special school, having to be inappropriately placed in mainstream schools with one-to-one support, inappropriately in resourced provisions, or in expensive out of borough (OOB) provisions.

This disconnect makes the transition into secondary special school difficult, particularly in the case of OOB placements. By providing a primary SEMH school within the borough, places in resourced provisions will be freed up for those pupils who would be more appropriately placed there. The current one to one support in mainstream can be utilised to support other pupils correctly placed in mainstream, enhancing inclusion, rather than there being a potential adverse impact on inclusion in mainstream schools. Pupils will benefit from shorter travel times.

A dedicated Inclusion team is in the process of being established within the borough and will provide outreach support to education settings as they develop their inclusive practices.

The local authority has a strengths-based outcomes framework, which has been developed in partnership with education, health and care services, as well as children and families, and ensures the child develops skills for life, prepares them for adulthood and to live healthy, happy lives.

The impact of South Tyneside's new free school will be measured via the outcomes below:

  • Reduction in out of borough placements / increased localised provision
  • Increase in emotional wellbeing and resilience
  • Reduction in fixed term and permanent exclusions
  • Efficiency and best value use of public funding, including reduced transport costs
  • Effective transitions and increased independence
  • Staff confidence and competence, with a greater capacity to meet need

Existing provision, expected future growth pupil numbers, and how places in the new school will be filled

South Tyneside does not have a primary special school for children with SEMH, therefore pupils with significant SEMH needs, and often with additional needs including Autism, ADHD, and adverse childhood experiences, are placed in schools outside of South Tyneside.

In recent years, the number of pupils placed in primary specialist SEMH provision has increased significantly, with the majority of pupils placed in independent special schools.

We currently have 12 SEMH pupils placed in costly OOB placements with a further 23 in additional resourced bases (ARBs). The ARBs are intended to be short term placements, but pupils are remaining longer term, due to a lack of special school places. The likelihood is these pupils will eventually be placed OOB.

In addition, our SEMH outreach programme received referrals for a further 42 pupils of reception and primary age with SEMH during 2021 / 22, some of whom will require special school support, which will again be OOB.

Children placed OOB are less likely to be involved in their local community. In consultation with parents and other professionals, children could be transitioned from out of area provision to the free school, if appropriate.

South Tyneside Council is a partner in the DfE's Delivering Better Value programme. Initial projections, based on the tool used for DBV calculations (but not yet validated), suggest that the number of children with EHCPs will increase by 7.5% each year; an increase from 1,600 in 2022 / 23 to 2,297 in 2026 / 27. Without a specialist SEMH provision, children's needs could not be met in borough.

The local authority's primary SEMH provision is offered from Additional Resource Bases (ARBs) at Hebburn Lakes Primary School and Lord Blyton Primary School, which opened in September 2021 in response to increasing demand.

ARB placements are intended for children with lower level SEMH needs who can return to their 'home' school after a period of intervention.

Although this has been successful, there is a bottleneck with children whose behaviour means they cannot transition back to their mainstream school and would be more appropriately placed in a special school. With little movement within the ARBs, children in crisis in mainstream schools are unable to access the ARB resulting in escalating needs in mainstream schools.

A primary special school would free up capacity within the ARBs and allow staff to work closely with pupils who can transition back to their 'home' school. The transition by ARB staff, working with parents and the 'home' school, would increase confidence with parents and expertise within mainstream settings, leading to increased inclusion across the borough.

The pupils for the new free school will come from the increased number of pupils with SEMH that are now being identified with a lack of appropriate placements and / or placements in out of area specialist provision.