Hope new £5million free school for autistic pupils on former Holywells High School site could go forward

Concerns have been raised that some pupils with mental ill health are missing out on support in educ

Concerns have been raised that some pupils with mental ill health are missing out on support in education. Stock image. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Parents will hold crucial talks with education bosses over a new £5million free school dedicated to students with autism next month.

Proposals for the free school, to be based on the former Holywells High School site in Ipswich, have been in the pipeline for three years but the Department for Education has refused two formal bids, the EADT has discovered.

Campaigners say the school, which would support 85 boys and girls between 10-18, is urgently needed as the region lacks places for children with the condition which affects their communication and learning abilities.

Lynne Thomas, chairman of Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said her group would meet with Suffolk County Council next month to discuss the plans. Education officials have worked up detailed designs for the school which would be a new-build, she said.

Mrs Thomas added there were a lot of frustrated parents with children who did not go to suitable schools because of a lack of dedicated provision.

“We heard at the end of last August that the school had not gone through, that was a great disappointment,” she said. “We had been working on the plan for three years and met with the regional schools commissioner. There’s a massive gap in provision in this part of the country. The school, under the National Autistic Society’s control, which have a series of schools across the UK, would have filled the gap between mainstream schools and special schools.

“We have a lot of high-functioning autistic children in Suffolk who are not attending school.”

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She said the government dismissed previous proposals because of concerns the would-be school’s academy trust, the National Autistic Society, had been behind with the development of a similar school in London.

The talks next month are to look at the way forward for the school vision. Mrs Thomas said the school would be called The Sherrington School, after pioneering medical researcher Dr Charles Sherrington who lived in Ipswich.

A council spokesman said: “The free school proposals have not been made by the county council but by external providers – in this case the National Autistic Society.

“We have been supportive of their efforts because there is a need for specialist provision and a free school would have brought government funding into the county to enable this to happen. We are now looking at other ways to provide this specialist school.”

A Department for Education spokesman said it was government policy not to comment on unsuccessful free school bids.

Ben Higgins, education development project lead at the National Autistic Society, said: “The Department for Education acknowledged the strengths of the bids, particularly the local demand we were able to demonstrate.

“However, we have always been mindful that applying for free schools is a very competitive process and the vast majority of applications get turned down. Although our second proposal reached the second stage of the process, the DfE took the decision not to take it further.

“This was disappointing news for the local families who hoped the school would open in the area.”

He added the charity had taken on board the Government’s feedback on its ability to manage its schools with development projects.