New Sunderland Special Free School for Autism will tackle shortage of places

Mark Jones, chief executive at the PROSPER Learning Trust.
Mark Jones, chief executive at the PROSPER Learning Trust.

Education chiefs have announced the preferred new provider for a free school for youngsters with autism.

Sunderland City Council and the Department for Education have confirmed their preferred partner to deliver the new Sunderland Special Free School for Autism will be PROSPER Learning Trust.

PROSPER submitted an application in November 2017, which saw them working together in partnership with Sunderland College.

Offering both primary and secondary education, the Sunderland Special Free School (SSFS), which is likely to open in 2020/21, will be a specialist autism school providing education for up to 96 children, aged five to 16.

The establishment of the new school is to be developed as part of local efforts to tackle the shortfall of school places within the Sunderland special school system for young people with autism.

It has the full support of councillors and will complement existing provision within the city.

Mark Jones, chief executive at PROSPER Learning Trust, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for PROSPER, the learners and Sunderland families.

"Together with Sunderland College and the Local Authority we aim to make this school a flagship of excellence in all areas of provision.

"We can’t wait to get started in the new term on all areas of planning including the curriculum, building design and stakeholder consultation.”

Sunderland College will work in partnership with PROSPER to support the new school in a variety of ways including the use of facilities, governance, staff development, curriculum development and to improve outcomes for all pupils.

Ellen Thinnesen, principal and chief executive of Sunderland College, said: “When we were approached to get involved we did not hesitate.

"The proposal for the school and the work that PROSPER had already undertaken excited us and the benefits going forward for the learners of Sunderland is clear to see.

“We are looking forward to working with partners moving forward and contributing to making a difference to learners of all ages with autism.”

Coun Louise Farthing, Sunderland Council’s cabinet member for children, learning and skills, added: “Working with our education and community learning partners, we have looked for the best way to provide young people with autism with the kind of specialist services to meet their educational and individual needs.

“We want to expand the education resources available locally for school-aged autistic children and provide learners and their families with all the opportunities we can within our city to help them overcome the challenges they may face to reach their full potential.

“This announcement of this new partnership with the Trust and Sunderland College is the latest stage in that continual process.”

The new school will become part of PROSPER Learning Trust, which consists of Newcastle Bridges School (hospital special school) and Linhope Pupil Referral Unit.

Joanne Clifford-Swan, Chair of Trustees, PROSPER Learning Trust said: “The proposals put forward by the city council were extremely detailed, which meant if selected we knew we could make a difference and have an immediate positive impact in supporting Sunderland’s commitment to meeting the needs of pupils with autism within the city.

“We are excited to have been chosen as the preferred partner going forward and delivering a school Sunderland can be proud of!”