Academy school could house autism centre

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Norfolk's first academy school could house a new style specialist centre to help youngsters with autism.


Norfolk's first academy school could house a new-style specialist centre to help youngsters with autism.

The county council is exploring whether Heartsease High, which is set to become the Open Academy, could be the home of a "specialist resources base" to help children with the condition.

The bases are part of a new way of helping children with special educ-ational needs aimed at introducing a more preventative approach and removing the "statementing" assessment process.

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There are 40 schools with special educational needs units, but under a new strategy for the county, 60 new- look "bases" will be introduced and each will have a specialist area of expertise such as autism, behavioural problems, or learning difficulties instead of the current one-size-fits-all approach.

And the academy is being shortlisted as a potential site for a base for youngsters in the Norwich area, while county hall is consulting on which other schools in Norfolk could open similar bases.

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Michael Batemen, strategic manager for special educational needs at the county council, said the units had two advantages over the current system.

"It's more responsive and offers the chance for early intervention for children because they do not require 'statements', which some people see as a long process," he said. "They might only be there for half a term and then their package of care could go with them back to their school."

He said the new bases reflected the wishes of parents in a recent consultation, who were keen to see centres with single specialisms rather than the current generalist approach.

"Both the school in its current form and the proposed sponsors for the academy have said they would like to do that," he added.

The Open Academy is being sponsored by entrepreneur Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James.

But the fate of the £20m academy bid is on a knife edge because of the tight timescale involved to demolish and rebuild the school and ministerial backtracking on a promise to put up £400,000 of the procurement costs.

The government now says it will only pay £250,000.

County councillors yesterday approved submitting an outline business case for the proposal to schools secretary Ed Balls for approval, with attention now focused on selecting a shortlist of two firms to build the new school and getting planning permission.

A report discussed yesterday listed a host of hurdles which needed to be cleared on time if pupils were to be studying in their new classrooms on time.

Councillors last month agreed to post a notice to close the existing school, and members are set to make a final decision in January whether to press ahead.

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