Free school in Norwich for children with autism marks its first week open

PUBLISHED: 09:36 19 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:19 20 September 2017

The new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School Trust

The new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School Trust


A new free school in Norwich which offers much-needed places for children with autism has welcomed its first pupils.

Barry Payne. Picture: Andy DarnellBarry Payne. Picture: Andy Darnell

The Wherry School, on Hall Road, opened last week with its first 48 pupils, four years after the initial bid to see it become a reality was lodged.

The purpose-built school, which will eventually take up to 100 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has specialist classrooms and spaces and areas for support professionals to work with its pupils, who are aged four to 19.

It has been built to ease the strain on special school places and has been welcomed by both parents and teachers around the county.

Taking the lead is principal Rachel Quick, formerly headteacher at Freethorpe Community Primary School, and vice principals Robert Speck and Danielle Winteringham.

The new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School TrustThe new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School Trust

MORE: Work begins on free school for children with autism

Thirty-four staff members are in post, a figure which is expected to grow to 70-plus when it reaches capacity.

Barry Payne, chairman of The Wherry School Trust, which runs the school, said he was “delighted” the school was finally up and running, and that its first young people were “gaining the benefits of a purpose-built specialist school”.

But Mr Payne, also executive headteacher at The Parkside School in Norwich, said there more work to be done.

The new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School TrustThe new Wherry School in Norwich. Picture: Wherry School Trust

“Although The Wherry School is equipped to complete the job of educating the children, we are looking to develop areas both within the school and in its grounds to enhance the young people’s learning experience,” he said.

He said the local community had rallied around them - the Rotary Club of Norwich Centenary had helped equip a specialist room at the school, while Sarah Glew, from Ponders Travel, had pledged to run a marathon to boost their efforts to develop the school grounds.

A completion ceremony for those involved with the construction of the building, which was led by Kier Construction, will be held at the start of October, while an official opening to celebrate the school will be held next spring.

Details will be released after Christmas.

To donate to Mrs Glew’s fundraiser, click here.

MORE: Parents battle to secure support for children with special educational needs

Finding enough specialist places for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is a battle being fought all over the country.

The number of pupils in need far outweighs the places available, and many children instead receive support through mainstream schools.

But concerns have been raised that as funding tightens, pressure grows and workloads expand, mainstream schools are unable to provide the level of support needed.

Figures revealed earlier this month showed that, nationally, the number of children with ASD being permanently excluded rose by 36pc from 2014/15 to 2015/16.

According to Department for Education figures from July, there were 1,400 children with ASD alone in Norfolk schools as of January 2017 - 627 at primary, 480 at secondary and 293 in special schools.

It is a rise on the previous year, when the government recorded 1,308 pupils with autism in the county’s schools.

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