New Free School for Children with Special Needs

Plans for a new free school for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Reading and Wokingham have taken a significant step forward. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We are delivering on our promise to reform our education system to ensure the next generation reach their full potential, and have already committed to increasing funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools.”

The government has announced the special free school, to be known as Oak Tree School, will be operated by the Maiden Erlegh Trust and funded by the Department for Education. The project has been a partnership between Brighter Futures for Children, Reading Borough Council and Wokingham Borough Council. The Department for Education confirmed the news on Twitter this morning, with a post reading: "35 new special free schools will help drive up standards in special education, providing specialist support and teaching for pupils with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties or mental health conditions."

Wokingham Borough is already home to the 'outstanding' Addington school in Woodley, but more local SEND places are needed. It currently costs Wokingham Borough Council more than £2 million a year to transport SEND children to school, at an approximate cost of £6,500 per head as there has been an increase in the number of children and young people with an educational health and care plan attending a special school, and in particular schools outside the borough.

Oak Tree School will open in September 2022 and accommodate 150 pupils with SEND and will be designated for pupils with a Social, Emotional and Mental Health and/or an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. The special school will meet the increasing levels of need in the Reading and Wokingham boroughs and provide an essential local education setting and mean that more children will be able to remain close to home for their schooling.

Both Wokingham Borough Council and Brighter Futures for Children will work with the new provider to agree the educational outcomes. The school will be on a piece of land at Winnersh Farm in Wokingham borough which is owned by Wokingham Borough Council. Feasibility and design work is currently being undertaken.  Further details on this work will be published later in the year.

Prof Dr Kate Reynolds, director of education at Brighter Futures for Children, said:“We are delighted that plans for the new SEND free school are moving forward and would like to congratulate the Maiden Erlegh Trust on their successful bid to run the school.

“We look forward to working with them and Wokingham Borough Council on progressing this exciting project. Maiden Erlegh Trust already runs a number of schools in the area and has recently taken over the Hamilton School, previously known as Phoenix College, an SEMH special school in Reading. This new free school will provide 150 much-needed places for Reading and Wokingham children with SEND and is part of Brighter Futures for Children’s strategy to meet the increasing demand for SEND places in the town.”

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, Wokingham’s executive member for children’s services said: “This is such a wonderful opportunity for Wokingham children with social, emotional and mental health and/or an autism spectrum disorder to have state of the art specialised facilities close to home. 

“We are pleased to continue to work with Maiden Erlegh Trust, who already run several schools within Wokingham borough, and are very happy to have been part of the partnership that has resulted in this excellent opportunity for Wokingham borough children with special educational needs and disabilities to stay within the borough for their schooling.

“We know that keeping children as close to home as possible has a beneficial impact on their learning and development, so having this new school in the borough is excellent news for us.”