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Proposed New Special Free School in Cranbrook, East Devon

Devon County Council is delighted to announce that we have been successful in our bid to the Department for Education (DfE) to open a new special free school in Cranbrook, East Devon.

The free school programme will be centrally administered and funded by the DfE.

The Department for Education will be seeking proposals from organisations who are interested in establishing and running the new school and the Secretary of State for Education will approve an application from potential sponsors to run the new school once there is an ambitious and deliverable approach to running the new school.

The proposed school will be a 70 place special free school for pupils aged 9-16 years of age with:

  • autistic spectrum disorder;
  • social, emotional and mental health;
  • cognition and learning;
  • speech, language and communication needs.

The School Specification and How to Apply Guidance for Trusts and other proposers is being published by the DfE on 9 May 2023 and will be available through the Government website. Apply to open a special free school – GOV.UK (

The local Contextual Information is provided by Devon County Council and can be found below.

This webpage will be updated throughout the process.

Proposer Group Engagement Events

If you would like to find out more about how to apply to the open the new special free school, please register to join one of our Engagement Events.

Two Engagement Events are being held by DCC with Create:Schools (the DfE’s free school support service) for potential applicants interested in establishing and running the school.

These will be on:

  • Wednesday 24 May 2023. 12:30pm to 2:00pm at the Younghayes Centre, 169 Younghayes Road, Cranbrook, EX5 7DR Please note that the event on 24 May 2023 has been cancelled. The event as set out below on 7 June will be going ahead as planned.
  • Wednesday 7 June 2023. 12:30pm to 2:00pm. This will be an on-line session via Microsoft Teams. A link will be sent to the online event.

Any potential applicants interested in attending should register their interest with Please also let us know the name of your organisation, who will attend, and their roles.

There will be a presentation (available to view here) about the proposed new school, the application process and key deadlines, followed by opportunities for questions and answers.

Contextual Information

Devon Special Free School

Contextual information for applicant groups applying to open a new Special Free School

Devon County Council

May 2023



The Department for Education is inviting applications from proposer groups to open a new special free school in Devon.

Applicant groups can access the 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 the key factual details about the proposed school, including the proposed size, SEND designation, age range, suggested top-up funding, and proposed site.

This document provides applicant groups with additional contextual information provided by Devon County Council, which includes:

  • The rationale, context and need for the school;
  • Details on the commissioning of places, including the involvement of any other LAs commissioning places;
  • A brief description of the existing provision in the area;
  • Future expected growth in pupil numbers; and
  • How the LA expects places within the school to be filled.


Devon County Council is seeking to open a new 70 Place Special School to support learners with complex and cognitive special needs – Cognition and Learning,  SEMH, ASC, Speech, Language & Communication. The proposed age range will be NCY5 to NCY 11.

This is a single Authority bid with the school site located within Cranbrook, a growing new town on the outskirts of Exeter in East Devon.  Cranbrook is anticipated to grow to over 8,000 in the next decade and land for the new Special School is allocated in the Local and Town Plan.

The school will support the local authority in meeting its statutory responsibilities in respect of the supply of sufficient suitable school places. The school is expected to be full within three years of opening and will be located adjacent to a new primary school which is specifically required to support the need from the expanding town. The provision itself will support an unmet need in the state funded sector and provide a school close to where learners live ensuring local schools for local children.

The new arrangement will support the delivery of the following key priorities.

  • All children and young people with SEND are in appropriate educational placements receiving at least a good quality of education, with health and social care support as needed, to achieve their potential;
  • Children and young people with SEND are well prepared for the next stage of their education, employment or training and their adult lives;
  • Children, wherever possible, are educated in their local communities with their peers;
  • Identification, assessment, and support are timely and appropriate to the level and type of need, offering equity for across the county.
  • The Local Area fulfils its statutory duties in relation to Education Health and Care Plans.
  • Parents and carers of children with SEND report that their children receive the support their children and young people to which they are entitled.


Devon has since 2018 created additional special school places to meet the increasing numbers of students who require specialist provision. This programme has included expansions and four new schools either open or due to be open in the foreseeable future.

As well as creating additional numbers, opportunities have been taken to provide places in areas where children and parents are underserved: reducing long journeys to access appropriate provision. This is particularly relevant given the rural nature of Devon.

Devon, in line with other Local Authorities, has experienced a significant rise in the number of children requiring statutory plans. This has resulted in an over reliance on the Non-Maintained and Independent Sector and pressures on the High Needs Budget.

The number of learners in Devon requiring a statutory plan is expected to rise from 7,300 to 9,200 between 2021 and 2026, a 26% increase. The primary needs seeing most growth are Cognition and Learning SEMH/ASC and Speech, Language and Communication.

Despite this increase, the overarching Devon plan to reduce the long-term reliance on the independent sector can be summarised as:

  1. increasing the capacity and inclusivity of mainstream settings;
  2. the ongoing review and recommissioning of existing special schools; and
  3. the provision of additional places to target higher levels of need and complexity.

Engagement Event Q and A

Devon County Council and Create:Schools

7th June 2023 12:30pm, MS Teams.

Summary of Questions and Answers

  1. Can DCC confirm the age range for the school?

The age range will be 9-16 years of age, NCY 5-11.

  1. Will the PowerPoint presentation be available following the meeting?

The PowerPoint presentation will be uploaded to DCC’s new school webpage at: Proposed New Special Free School in Cranbrook, East Devon – Planning and Shona Meek will email to Trusts present at the engagement event.

  1. What is behind the vision (and the wide complexity of need) for the new school: is the vision coming from a national perspective or Devon’s perspective?

The vision and specification for the new school is as a result of Devon’s view as to what is the greatest area of need and continues to be the greatest need. The school will help meet a gap in provision not currently offered and reduce an over reliance on the independent sector.

  1. Are there any models in particular that facilitate the complexity of need already? Are there any best practice models?

All Devon’s Special Schools are good or better. We have existing schools with pockets meeting this provision: 2 or 3 areas of need across their cohort. DCC are looking for a vision and plan from a Trust on how they could best manage the complexity of need and provide best outcomes.  We have not identified best practice nationally.

  1. Regarding phantom modelling and considering top up and place funding – there will be 7 year groups, 70 children, 10 per year group. What are the ratios?

We have not done any financial modelling. Devon has existing schools with this size of class and structure. We cannot share these models as they belong to existing schools. But DCC believe it is achievable on that level of top-up.

  1. What are the specific needs of the pupils? What are the banding descriptors?

We do not have banding descriptors at DCC. It is one level of funding – one value of top up for every learner in school based on types of categories of need, ranging from £11-17,000 in other schools comparable to need.

  1. Previously discussed the complexity of needs. If the needs of pupils are greater, will funding reflect that?

Above and beyond the top up funding will require discussion with SEN team as to what can and cannot be provided.

We can provide ‘Plus Packages’ – this is considered on a case by case basis. Certainly, DCC continuously look at funding mechanisms. It is something that could be reviewed potentially during the pre-opening stage.

Many thanks to all Trusts for attending the event.

Any further questions, following the event, to please.