Reading free school for autistic children a step closerBy Paul Cassell
July 25, 2012
A new free school for autistic children in Reading is a step closer after the Department for Education approved a bid by the charity behind the plans.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) has proposed to run the specialist school which would cater for about 50 pupils aged from five to 19 across Berkshire and neighbouring counties.
The charity’s preferred location for the school, known currently as Thames Valley Free School, is the former Meadway School site in Tilehurst.
Under the plans, the school is expected to open its doors in September 2013 and will fill the gap in educational provision for autistic youngsters identified by Reading Borough Council.
Figures show there has been an increase in the number of statemented children in Reading and autism has increased by 1.9 per cent, making it the highest of all special educational needs.
An overwhelming 90 per cent of parents in the county surveyed in November 2011 said they would be interested in a school for children with autism in Reading.
NAS already runs six schools across the UK and worked with local authorities, voluntary groups, schools and parents to prepare the application for the DfE.
According to a recent NAS report, 30 per cent of parents felt their child’s educational placement was not adequate and 43 per cent of children who are in autism-specific schools had to travel long distances for their education.
A unique aspect of the new school will be partnerships with each pupil’s nearest school or college, keeping them informed of pupil progress and inviting them to take an active role in it.
Pupils will have the opportunity to attend classes, activities and events at the partner school if this is appropriate for them.
The free school curriculum will also focus on helping pupils build links within the community and preparing them for adulthood
Founded in 1962, the National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for people with autism and their families. Further public consultations about the use of the site will be carried out ahead of any work starting.
Mark Lever, NAS chief executive, said: “This is great news for Reading and local pupils who have autism. The disability is a spectrum condition that affects everyone differently, so it is vital that families affected by autism can choose from a range of schools and access the best education for their children locally as well acting as a voice for those with the condition.
“As the NAS celebrates its 50th birthday, our new free school will continue the legacy of autism education that our founders started and support more young people with autism to lead the life they choose.”