Building begins on specialist autism school in Chessington

Construction of a new specialist autism school in Chessington started this week to bring the education of autistic students to the heart of the community. 

Kingston Council and the Department of Education have organised a partnership with national charity Ambitious about Autism to deliver Spring School.

Councillor Steph Archer and to-be Head Andy Nowak on the vision for Spring School (Video: Kingston Council)

Kingston Councillor Steph Archer said she was pleased that building work had begun on the former Moor Lane Centre. Archer said: “Supporting children and young people to have the best possible start in life is a top priority for us at Kingston Council…We have long hoped to have an autism-specialist school within our borough.”

Children with special needs and disabilities will be able to learn in the centre of the community, rather than travel outside the borough.

Set to open in September 2023, the school’s first academic year will see 36 pupils into specialist educational environment. The council has aspirations for the school to teach up to 90 pupils between ages 4-19.

The partnership with Ambitious about Autism is run by the Council and will manage student referrals to the school.

Ambitious about Autism aims to improve educational and employment opportunities for children and young people with autism. Spring School will be the fourth school opened by the charity.

CGI forecast of Spring School development
CGI forecast of Spring School development (Photo: Spring School)

Up to 71% of autistic children attend mainstream schools. Research has shown that state schools often have neither the resources nor expertise to provide the necessary support.

In a 2021 survey by The National Autistic Society, 74% of parents with autistic children felt that their child’s school place did not fully meet their needs.

Another survey within the same report found that seven in ten autistic children and young people said that school would be better if teachers understood more about autism.

There are currently no legal regulations in place to ensure teachers in mainstream schools have qualifications or experience in teaching autistic students. 

At a specialist autistic school teachers must have at least a Master’s Degree in Special Needs.

Spring School Prospectus
Spring School Prospectus (Photo: Spring School)

Not everyone agrees that children should be segregated. Kingston Alderman Julie Reay who has a personal connection with autism, said: “As adults they won’t be living segregated lives, and other children without these issues learn to be tolerant and not to think of these children as ‘other’.”

“Being segregated can seriously affect their self-esteem and their ability to reach their full potential.”

But head of Spring School Andy Nowak said: “Spring School…will offer pupils the best of both worlds.” Special needs support for students will be provided alongside a programme that follows the national curriculum.

Ambitious about Autism charity has aspirations that the school building will be a hub for community events and sports activities. The students will also have the opportunity to learn at the nearby mainstream school, Chessington Secondary.

Residents were involved in choosing the school’s name and both the council and the charity have ensured the community is involved at every stage of the development.

Spring School is also offering ongoing consultation processes throughout November with the public to keep them involved in the proceedings and to answer any queries. These involve in-person meetings, Zoom meetings and drop-in events. 

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