A UK charity is looking to create what could be the country's first-ever Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) school, run by autistic adults. The charity, More Education, which already operates a support hub for families in Andover, Hampshire, is seeking to establish a specialist school for up to 60 children aged between five and 16, who have had a formal assessment of their needs by a council, known as an EHC plan. The independent not-for-profit school is intended to cater to pupils who have conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
More Education has reportedly struggled to find a suitable site for the school within the region, despite having the necessary funding through donations, grants, and fundraising. The charity has encountered difficulties including land availability and the requirement for adequate outdoor space. However, Mark Rist, the group's head of education, said that demand for a new SEND school was "huge", with the number of pupils in England with special educational needs rising since 2016.
Tori Rist, Head of Operations at More Education, who herself was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, is determined to make the school a reality.
"We are very out and about being autistic. We are very proud about our brains," she said. "These children are our inventors, our scientists, our mathematicians or our artists, but if they're not given that… safe environment to learn, how can they reach their potential?"
Parents of SEND children have expressed their support for the proposed school. Jane, whose nine-year-old daughter Cassie is autistic and also has ADHD, stated that her daughter has received extra support at her mainstream school but would benefit from the specialist environment the proposed school would provide. "They [would] have a better understanding of who she is. When you have a child with special needs… each day is different," she said.
A survey conducted by a headteachers' union in 2022 revealed that nearly all schools which responded felt that insufficient funding was available to support pupils who had special needs. The results of a government review of the system are yet to be published.