A New SEMH Specialist Free School for Surrey

Closed 31 Aug 2023

Opened 9 May 2023


On 1 March 2023 the Department for Education (DfE) advised that the Secretary of State for Education had approved our application to establish a new specialist free school in Frimley in the Borough of Surrey Heath, North West Surrey. The DfE will publish the key facts about the approved new specialist free school and local contextual information in the standardised specification published on GOV.UK. Surrey’s local contextual information is published below. This 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 SCC expects places within the school to be filled.

Department for Education's Free School Approach

Surrey’s will be one of the 33 special free schools that have been approved by the DfE in the first stage of SEND Wave 3 nationwide. The proposed new specialist school, which will be funded and constructed by the DfE will cater for boys and girls aged 11 to 19 years with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH). It is envisaged that the new school will provide up to 170 specialist school places at full capacity.

The assessment of Trust applications to run a new specialist free school will be a centrally run DfE process, with local authority involvement. The DfE will seek views and local intelligence from Surrey County Council (SCC), and a member of SCC will also to sit on the interview panel. This arrangement reflects a number of considerations and clarifies the roles and accountability of central and local government in this process. SCC has a clear role as the commissioner and funder of specialist school provision.

The DfE’s Special Free Schools Programme is centrally administered and funded, and Ministers have always made the final decision about which applicants are approved to open new free schools. Ultimately the Secretary of State for Education will approve applications once she is satisfied that there is an ambitious, and deliverable approach to running the new school. The Secretary of State may decide to re-run the competition if a suitable sponsor is not identified.

SCC’s Engagement Events for Proposer Groups

Create: Schools is contracted by the DfE to support free school applicants and are key contributors to our planned engagement events as part of its work to generate high quality applications. Engagement events are an opportunity for SCC to set out in more detail to prospective applicants the local context, existing provision for children and young people with additional needs and disabilities and how the we see the new school fitting in with our strategic plans. You can find out more about Create: Schools here.

We held an informal engagement event on 25 April and have provided the slides from the presentation used at that event in the related documents below. We will now be holding a series of formal engagement events for Trusts and Academies on Wednesday 17 May and Tuesday 6 June so that proposer groups can find out more about:

  • Surrey’s current Local Offer for children and young people with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs
  • Current and future projected demand for specialist school places for children and young people aged 11-19 years resident in Surrey
  • The proposed school, its location and funding for pupil places
  • Create: Schools free offer to proposer groups
  • The Specialist Fee School application process
  • Assessment criteria against the published School Specification
  • Next steps and key milestones


From 9 May 2023 SCC holds engagement events with prospective trusts. Support from Create: Schools will be provided. https://www.createschools.co.uk/, DfE Pre-registration window opens.
16 June 2023 DfE Pre-registration window closes
31 August 2023 DfE Application window closes
End October 2023 DfE Assessment of Trust applications ends. SCC will be required to feed in any intelligence on applications being assessed and views on applications being put forward for interviews.
November-December 2023 Trust interviews. A SCC representative will sit on the panel for all interviews pertaining to the LAs approved specialist free school.
January 2024 Successful Trusts announced

Why your views matter

If you would like to find out more about how to apply to open the new specialist free school, please register to join our online engagement events for proposer groups which will be delivered via Microsoft Teams.


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