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Battle on to save school from closure

PUBLISHED: 21:11 25 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:26 03 March 2010

PARENTS pack their bags and travel thousands of miles for their children to be taught at the International Peto Institute in Hungary.

Its winning ways of teaching children with brain damage and central nervous system problems - called conductive education - have gained international acclaim.

PARENTS pack their bags and travel thousands of miles for their children to be taught at the International Peto Institute in Hungary.

Its winning ways of teaching children with brain damage and central nervous system problems – called conductive education – have gained international acclaim.

The idea is that despite the damage, the nervous system can still form new neural connections so children can do things for themselves.

Such an approach can teach them enough to get them accepted into mainstream schools and lead fuller lives.

But hidden in a country lane in Suffolk, is a school where the same methods are winning over fans closer to home.

Under the watchful eye of trained staff, up to 25 children a week learn how to perform simple tasks at Suffolk School for Parents in Burstall Lane, Sproughton. For some it can be learning to do something as simple as lifting their head, or feeding themselves, which transforms their life.

The emphasis is strongly on the positive sides of disability, but at the moment a bright future for the school itself looks a long way off.

It ran under the umbrella organisation SCOPE for two years, but the Ipswich and East Suffolk branch has now folded and the school is having to turn into a charity to have a chance of survival.

It urgently needs to raise enough cash to pay the £50,000 annual bill for specialist equipment and staff – it only has enough funds in the bank to last another three months.

Team leader, Allison Boggis said: "Unfortunately things are not looking very good at the moment. Unless we get people's support the school is going to have to close.

"We are applying for charity status and writing off for any sort of funds we possibly can, but it will take time. We couldn't start before now, because all our funds had to come through SCOPE.

"The staff have even offered to work unpaid for a month until any funds can be found."

Chairwoman and physiotherapist, Chris Avery, said: "From day one, it was obvious we were providing a service that is needed in Suffolk.

"There are similar schools in Norwich, Chelmsford and Witham, but we are fairly unique in that we stand alone and are not linked with other facilities.

"Children come from as far afield as Leiston, Saxmundham, Bury St Edmunds and Hollesley."

The school is free to parents, and every child must be accompanied by an adult. They are taught according to a structured programme which is carefully designed to fit their needs, and sensory aids play a big part.

Allison said: "It is like a diluted version of the Peto Institute.

"The ideas and theories of conductive education all came over to this country from Hungary.

"We provide the support, advice and guidance, and it's all such fun the children don't realise they are working. They can take the skills home and that's something positive because with a disability it's often the negative things which are focused on."

Chris added: "The children spend so much time having things done to them, by doctors for example, that this is something they can do for themselves, with support and lots of encouragement. We provide a challenge for the children and they respond to it."

The learning topic this week was bread, and a blind boy was able to let grain trickle through his fingers, while three-year-old Jeremy marched like a soldier on flour.

His mum, Sara Kennell, 35, from Sutton, Woodbridge, said: "A big bonus of coming here is the social aspect, both to the children and the parents. Jeremy is bright, determined and motivated. He wants to do things himself but an area of his brain won't let him do that, so other areas are being taught to take over. He has learned how to take his socks off, for example.

"We've been coming here for 18 months and it gave me the starting point to find out more about conductive education.

"The school really is a very important resource and we would be very sorry to see it go."

There are currently 15 children attending the school, several of whom have been referred by paediatricians or physiotherapists, and it is recognised by OFSTED.

The team have lots of ideas for long-term fundraising. If you can help, call 01473 652880.

Weblinks:

www.petoinstitute.com/english/index.html

www.scope.org.uk/cgi-bin/eatsoup.cgi?id=5007

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