Bracknell Forest special free school

The information on this page has been published in line with guidance from the Department of Education (DfE).

It relates to the bidding process for opening a new free special school in Bracknell Forest.

The bidding process:

  • opened on Tuesday 9 May
  • closes on Thursday 31 August

If you are interested in submitting a bid visit how to apply to set up a special free school (for local authorities) on GOV.UK.

The DfE is inviting applications from proposer groups to open a new special free school in Bracknell Forest.

Applicant groups can access 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 key factual details about the proposed school. It includes:

  • proposed size
  • SEND designation
  • age range
  • suggested top-up funding
  • a proposed site

This page provides applicant groups with contextual information provided by Bracknell Forest Council. It includes:

  • the rationale, context and need for the school
  • details on the commissioning of places
  • information about the involvement of any other council's commissioning places
  • a brief description of the existing provision in the area
  • future expected growth in pupil numbers
  • how the council expects places within the school to be filled


Since 2017 Bracknell Forest has seen a year-on-year growth in the number of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) it is responsible for. There has been a 52% growth in the numbers of plans over this 5-year period.

September 2022 saw the council responsible for 1250 EHCP’s. 41% of EHCPs were for children and young people whose primary need is Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As a council we do not have an ASD special school to meet the needs of those that require this type of provision.

November 2021 inspection

In late November 2021 OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) undertook an inspection of Bracknell Forest to see how well they had implemented the SEND reforms.

Following this inspection, 9 key areas of significant weakness were identified. Critically “lack of local provision for a substantial proportion of the SEND population” was one area of significant weakness identified. The addressing of these 9 areas has resulted in the authority producing a written statement of action monitored by the DfE.

Current provision

Bracknell Forest has one special school. This special school caters for children with cognition and learning needs.

In 2021, 4 new specialist resources provisions (SRPs) were developed in primary settings. This development will create an additional 48 places over a 3-year growth period.

Bracknell now has:

  • 4 primary settings with an ASD specialism
  • one with a social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) specialism
  • one with a speech, language and communication needs specialism
  • one that supports children with severe learning difficulties

Currently we have one secondary SRP supporting children with ASD and challenging behaviour. This SRP can accommodate 56 children.

In total, Bracknell Forest have 162 places in SRP's across both education stages.

Following a recent review of the boroughs' SRP provision, it is planned to develop 30 new places for children with ASD in the secondary sector. It is planned that these new places will be available from September 2023.

Rise in number of pupils supported with an EHCP

Over a 3-year period Bracknell Forest has seen a significant rise in the number of children and young people supported through an EHCP whose primary need is ASD.

In January 2019, Bracknell Forest identified 280 children with an EHCP whose primary need was ASD. In January 2022 this figure had increased to 510, an increase of 82%.

In order to meet this growing need, Bracknell Forest has had to increase its reliance on the independent sector to meet its statutory responsibility in securing appropriate educational provision.

In July 2022 Bracknell Forest had placed 160 children within the independent and non-maintained sector. The cost of this was £8.3 million which was roughly similar to the boroughs' high needs block overspend.

Seventy children, or 44% of this cohort, have a primary need of ASD. This creates an annual cost to the high needs block of £4 million.

Use of independent sector

Parents are choosing the independent sector due to lack of alternatives within their local community. This results in children travelling long distances out of their local community. The impact of which affects the ability of children to:

  • transfer their skills
  • develop links and friendships within their local community
  • develop positive transitions to the further education sector

Of further concern is that schools are not always of the quality we would want. SEND children are securing places at schools that require improvement (OFSTED rating). This creates tension as council officers look for limited alternatives of quality.

The current situation creates a stark choice for parents and the council: to place a child or retain a placement in these poorly performing schools, o retain an inappropriate placement in mainstream or provide home tuition.

These options do not meet an individual child’s needs effectively. The creation of an in-borough special free school would remove this unacceptable situation.

If the new free school proposal was unsuccessful, we would have no alternative but to continue to use the independent sector. This would create year-on-year pressure on the borough's already highly pressured high needs block.

It is our perspective that the development of a new ASD special school would not add additional pressure to the borough’s high needs block.

Cost of using the independent sector

Currently Bracknell Forest are paying on average £60,000 per year to place a child with ASD in the independent sector. The development of a new ASD special school in Bracknell Forest would see this average annual cost per place reduce to approximately £30,000. Potential savings would be around £2 million per year.

Bringing children back to a local special school from the independent sector could have a negative impact on some children. We are realistic about this. However, a new special school would provide an opportunity for cost avoidance.

Given the lack of ASD special school provision and the year-on-year growth in the ASD cohort, it is likely that we will see a continued growth in the use of the independent sector to meet need.

It is conceivable that 100 children would be placed in the independent sector at a cost of £6 million. The development of the free school could potentially deliver a cost saving of £3 million.

Viewed in conjunction with Bracknell Forest’s SEMH special school proposal, this could make a huge impact on the borough’s annual deficit to the high needs block.

2020 to 2022 SEND strategy

Bracknell Forest is currently updating its SEND strategy through coproduction. The current strategy in runs through until the end of 2022.

The strategy was developed in partnership with Bracknell Forest stakeholders through our SEND Improvement Partnership.

Our SEND Improvement Partnership includes our parent forum and representatives from:

  • early years
  • schools
  • post 16 providers
  • transitions team
  • social care
  • health partners

The overarching priority detailed in the strategy is to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND. It aims to make sure they have the best opportunities to achieve their ambitions, educational and other outcomes. This includes getting a job and living as independently as possible.

Our specific priorities are:

  1. Effective leadership, governance, and accountability of SEND (including the allocation and use of high needs funding).
  2. Making sure that our SEND and other vulnerable children and young people have access to a flexible range of ‘fit for purpose’ outcomes-focused provision and support.
  3. Building upon existing engagement to further strengthen and improve co-production with children, young people and their parents and carers.
  4. Children and young people to have successful transitions and access robust preparation for adulthood pathways, independent living, and employment.
  5. Strengthening focus on early identification of children and young people at risk of presenting social, emotional, and mental health needs thereby reducing the need for crisis intervention.
  6. The development of local provision delivers on the specific area of improvement as identified within the SEND strategy.

Deficit recovery plan

In May 2022 Bracknell Forest produced a deficit recovery plan due to the level of overspend within the high needs block. It is currently forecast that the council will have a cumulative high needs deficit of £18.2 million for the 2022 to 2023 financial year. This is 80% of the borough's high needs block allocation.

Following this piece of work, the council have been invited to take part in the initiative “Delivering Better Value in SEND.”

It is important to note the positive impact that a new special school would have on the borough’s annual spend and impact on deficit.

As detailed in the plan, high needs block spend on provision within the independent and non-maintained sector for 2019 to 2020 was £4.9 million. Current projections show that this figure has the potential to grow by 130% to £11.3 million in the year 2025 to 2026.

We are predicting further growth within the ASD cohort over this same period of time with the figure doubling from 273 in 2019 to 539 in 2025.

However, early years colleagues are reporting 45 children diagnosed with ASD between the ages of 2 to 5 over the last year.

This growth has only recently been reported. It is not captured within the previously illustrated growth detailed earlier. Further modelling is needed to understand the level of growth to make sure we can meet the needs of this cohort effectively going forward.

We are not in a position to expand our specialist provision as we do not currently have an ASD special school. We are developing secondary SRP’s, however this only meets the needs of a small proportion of the population. It does not negate the need for a special school for some children.

The need to develop a special school in the borough is paramount.

Our ability to defend a parental request for an independent school through the tribunal process is minimal. We have no alternatives that we can successfully justify and defend through this process.

Specific areas of focus requested in the submission guidance


Bracknell Forest had no permanent exclusions of children with an EHCP in the 2021 to 2022 academic year. However, there were 33 fixed term exclusions across primary and secondary for children supported by an EHCP.

Elective home education

Bracknell Forest has 4 children with an EHCP who are registered as being electively home educated. This is down 1 from the 2021 to 2022 academic year.

There are 18 children that need an appropriate specialist placement. These children are accessing home tuition or have an inappropriate placement in a mainstream setting.

Part-time timetables and access to alternative provision

The latest data has captured children with EHCPs accessing this provision.

There are 8 children accessing part-time provision within their main school setting. This increases when we look at the alternative provision sector.

Eighteen children are accessing alternative provision supported with an EHCP. Of this number, 16 are in the secondary sector.

In 2021 to 2022, Bracknell Forest had 69.2% of its EHCP population accessing mainstream provision. This demonstrates a high level of inclusivity compared to national data.

How the new school will meet the needs of children and young people

The proposed new special school will meet the needs of a specific cohort of young people. This cohort of young people will have a formal diagnosis of Autism but will need to be of mainstream cognitive ability. They may have struggled to access mainstream educational due to anxiety or an inability to deal with sensory overload. We would expect placements to be predominantly full time and not of a residential nature.

Address priorities identified in SEND and maximise value for money

The development of a new ASD special school would meet some of the priorities identified in the SEND Strategy.

It would support the effective allocation of high needs funding and maximise value for money. In the current situation, significant levels of funding are moving into the independent sector. It will allow those children with SEND, and particularly ASD, to access a continuum of provision. This would make sure their needs are met effectively. It will be key in supporting the preparing for adulthood agenda. It will also allow young people to access their local community where skills are developed that supports transition.

The development of the new school will have a positive impact on the borough’s high needs block.

Removal of reliance on independent sector

Currently, if we need a special school place for a child with ASD we are reliant on the independent sector. There is little or no capacity to place in other council special schools due to pressure on neighbouring council's specialist provision and places.

Neighbouring council's have voiced their reliance on the independent sector to meet the needs of a year-on-year growing cohort of children. Placing a child in a new free special school will cost the council on average half the cost of a placement in the independent sector.

Complete the continuum of provision in Bracknell Forest and provide more options

The development of a new ASD special school will complete the continuum of provision within Bracknell Forest. It will provide parents with a broad choice of options. It will also address the lack of local specialist provision for a significant proportion of children with SEND in the borough.

We are expecting minimal impact on our single current special school given the difference in denomination. However, consideration is required to consider the impact more broadly across the system.

A new banding tool is in development. This is needs led and critically, it will define the type of provision that is appropriate for an individual child. It will give clarity and a clear threshold of need for a child moving into either our SRP provision or into the newly created special school.

In the academic year of 2021 to 2022, 69.2% of children supported through an EHCP accessed their education within the mainstream sector. A small proportion of these children should be accessing their education within a special school. However, a lack of appropriate local provision has meant that this has not been possible. This situation is not in the best interest of individual children.

A new special school would alleviate this situation. It would provide appropriately placed children opportunities to thrive and fulfil their potential.

An in-borough special school, providing outreach across the education landscape, will raise inclusion by supporting the mainstream sector. This will help them to meet the needs of all children and young people within Bracknell. For those whose placement is untenable, early engagement will support effective transition into the specialist sector.

Community engagement

Significant engagement has taken place with the schools' forum high needs subgroup. They are supportive of a new special free school.

Further engagement has been undertaken with the Bracknell parent carer forum who are also supportive.