Plans for new special free school for autistic children in Sunderland approved by council chiefs

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Plans for a new free school to provide for children with autism have been backed by senior councillors in Sunderland.

The new school, which will be built in Redhouse on the site of the former Bishop Harland CE VA Primary School, to cater for children with autism spectrum disorders

The city's current autistic provision at two sites is oversubscribed and councillors on Sunderland's ruling cabinet heard how there is no more capacity to expand.

Early estimates are that the new school could cost in excess of £3million to build. The backing by Sunderland's cabinet followed a consultation in which 90% of those taking part - including parents and headteachers - welcomed the move.

Councillor Louise Farthing, responsible for Children's Services in Sunderland, said: "Last year the Government invited Sunderland to look at the demand for special school places for children with autism.

"The demand for places is rising and these are children with complex, social, behavioural and emotional needs.

"Therefore we are pleased - here at the council and in the community - how the Government has recognised our commitment to providing all our children with the best facilities possible. As there is increasing demand for specialist school places, it is right and correct that they are met locally.

"We are now looking to build a new 96 place school for 5 – 16 years olds with autism on the former site of Bishop Harland Primary School.

"It will be a valuable resource as we work hard to provide some of our most vulnerable children and young people with the best possible educational experience."

The report to the Cabinet outlined how at secondary level the city's existing secondary autism school is operating 30 pupils above its capacity. A further increase of places at the city’s primary autism school is also space restricted following a previous expansion in 2015.

Under the Government's rules, the proposed new school must be established as a free school/academy.

The council is now preparing the selection process necessary to make a recommendation to the Government for a preferred sponsor for the new school.