PARENTS of youngsters with special needs have reacted to the news that an autism free school in Solihull will ‘likely open’ in two years.
It has been hailed as a positive step in the right direction on social media although many parents say it will do little to cater to an ‘overwhelming demand’ for special school places in the borough.
Solihull Council has been given the green light by the government’s Department for Education to establish the school after it granted a funding package.
The new school, which the council says is likely to be open in two years, will have up to 100 places for children and young people with autism aged between seven and 16 years old.
Parent of children with autism Zoe Wickham said: “I think it’s a positive step forward.
“However one school with limited places is not going to make much of a difference to the overwhelming need within Solihull.
“While I’m happy for the children that will be able to access this school in two years time, what are Solihull Council doing to ensure children with special needs are supported today?
“Because from our experiences they are being failed repeatedly.”
Cirian-Marie Beddoes demonstrated with other parents, staff and students in an attempt to save cherished vocational courses previously offered by the now closed K2 Learning facility – which catered to many over-16s with special needs.
Cirian-Marie – whose child has special needs – said: “This school will take two years to come to opening and K2 was up and running and successfully creating a structured, appropriate and supportive environment for such pupils.
“I met with the council leaders last month to talk through many issues and they have done their number-crunching and worked out is makes no financial sense to send our special needs kids out of area.
“This decision is purely a cost-saving move – too little to late. What do our kids do for the next two to three years?”
Solihull has 1,444 pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
EHCPs provide those aged up to 25 with special needs with a document outlining the support they need for their education – including advice from doctors and psychologists.
In January last year, 558 (nearly two fifths) of Solihull pupils with an EHCP have autism as their primary need.
This is forecast to rise by 296 (over a half) by 2023.
The current and projected rate is significantly above national and regional levels.
Councillor Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, said: “We know we have comparatively high rates of autism diagnosis in the borough.
“This funding means we can take an important step in delivering the council’s ambitious programme.
“For those pupils with more complex needs, creating a special free school will mean we can better meet current and future demand for places, whilst also extending local choice.
“On a practical level it also means we can educate more children and young people nearer to their homes.”