New specialist schools for children with special educational needs, or pupils who have been excluded from mainstream schools, are be built across England.
Around 3,500 more school places will be created under plans to open 37 special and two alternative provision schools, the Department for Education said.
But a headteachers’ union has warned that funding shortages go much “deeper” and existing schools needed more cash to support children with complex needs.
It comes after the National Education Union (NEU) warned last year thousands of children with special educational needs do not have school places amid a “crisis” in education funding.
"With school budgets at breaking point and health and social care services severely cut, schools have been left struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of headteachers’ union NAHT.
He added: “This money will only go so far and funding shortages in schools go much further and deeper.
"It is of particular concern that the financial burden of addition support for pupils with more complex needs penalises those mainstream schools that are the most inclusive.
“This is unsustainable. We need significant investment into existing schools and services to ensure all pupils, irrespective of starting point or need, fulfil their full potential.”
The free schools in regions across England will provide specialist support and education for pupils with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties or mental health conditions.
Two schools in the West Midlands will provide more than 100 places to young people who may have been, or are at risk of being, expelled from mainstream schools.
The announcement comes after police commissioners and London major Sadiq Khan wrote to the PM saying pupils, both formally and informally excluded, are more vulnerable to becoming involved in knife crime.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: "Over the past week, there has been much debate in the media about children and young people whose social, emotional and behavioural needs make them vulnerable.”
She added: "These additional school places will enable children with special needs and those facing difficulties to have access to high quality education provision.”
Applications will now open in the 39 successful local authorities to find providers - including community groups, teachers and charities - to run the free schools.
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: "We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
"That's why we are investing significant funding into Special Education Needs units attached to mainstream schools and in additional support so children with education, health and care plans can access mainstream education.
"But we recognise some children require more specialist support. These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided to help support every child to have a quality education.”
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