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(UK) Kent: New special school to address 'appalling' lack of special places

Nov 14, 2022, Kent Online: Elliott Park private school on Sheppey to become special needs school https://www.kentonline.co.uk/sheerness/news/new-plan-for-private-school-which-shut-without-warning-277069/

SE England

A former private school which shut without warning back in the summer will be brought back into use as a much-needed special needs provision….

However, three months on, it has now been revealed that The Autism Apprentice is taking over the former school in Marina Drive, Minster, and bringing it back into use as an educational facility focussing on young people with special educational needs (SEN).

The new school, which will be called The Stefan Taye School, will cater for up to 69 10 to 19-year-olds and is set to open next summer.

Sarah Aldridge, The Autism Apprentice's operations director, said: "The lack of specialist placement and the right provision for youngsters across the county is appalling.

"As a result, we are seeing an increase in anxiety, mental health and autism in young people, while there are secondary school-aged children who just cannot access school at all….

Mrs Aldridge added: "We all live in Swale and we just really want to make a difference to the area. Having children on the spectrum ourselves, it just gives us that drive and determination to try and improve things for others.

"My daughter, who is 16, has had to travel all over the county to go to a specialist provision: in Maidstone, Ramsgate and, now, Rochester, but you want your child to feel part of their own community; it's so important."…

Desperate need for places

While Sittingbourne has two SEN schools – Meadowfield School and Aspire School – the need for special facility on Sheppey is increasingly in need.

However, calls for much-needed provision on the Island are finally being answered.

In addition to The Stefan Taye School, a new special primary school the first of its kind on the Island – is proposed to open on Sheppey in 2025/26.

It was revealed last December that it will cater for 50 young people with SEN and will either be an expansion of an existing school or a standalone “satellite” site.

Meanwhile, in September this year, plans for Sheppey's first secondary special school were approved.

It will be built on the former Danley Middle School site, next to the existing Halfway Houses Primary School at Halfway.

It will provide places for 120 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) needs and Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs from ages 11 to 16. The school is aiming to open in September next year.

Cllr Cameron Beart (Con), who represents Queenborough and Halfway on Swale council, has supported calls for more suitable, local SEN provision to meet growing needs on the Island and reduce the demand for out-of-area school transport for a number of years.

Welcoming the news, he said: "It is wonderful that we will be getting, not one but, two new SEN secondary schools here on Sheppey, providing for and meeting the growing needs of our local children.

"This is something I have been committed to delivering on the Island and will continue to push for more improvements through delivery of our forward plan, including much-needed SEN primary school places.

"I am also overjoyed that it is the fantastic team at The Autism Apprentice who are behind this latest announcement. I know the great work they do already in Swale and I wish them every success with the new school."

The former Elliott Park private primary school in Marina Drive, Minster, Sheppey