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.
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.
Oak Tree School will 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.
The school is anticipated to open in September 2022.
The Department for Education (DfE) gave the go-ahead in March 2019 for a new special free school to be opened in the Reading/Wokingham area.
Following a recent procurement exercise, led by the DfE, Maiden Erlegh Academy Trust has now been appointed as the new school provider. The school will operate as a Special Free School and will be accountable to the DfE.
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 adjacent to Wheatfield Primary School and the M4/A329M in Winnersh. The site is owned by Wokingham Borough Council and has been promoted for a school and housing through Wokingham Borough Council’s local plan update. The DfE will be responsible for building the school including all costs and the land will be leased to the DfE on a peppercorn rent.
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 specialized 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.”
Cllr Ashley Pearce, Reading’s lead councillor for education, said: “The Maiden Erlegh Trust has a proven track record of running schools in Reading and working well with education authorities.
“The number of children with SEND has increased significantly in Reading in recent years and similar patterns of growth have been seen in neighbouring authorities.
“I welcome the progress of this new special free school which will result in more Reading children receiving the specialist education they need closer to home.”