The National Autistic Society to open a free school

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The National Autistic Society (NAS) has revealed plans to open a free school for children with autism in Berkshire and neighbouring counties in September.

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Thames Valley School, a collaboration between the NAS, local authorities, voluntary groups, schools and parents, is being set-up in response to a local need for specialist provision for children and young people with autism.

It follows concerns by Reading Borough Council about being able to meet the needs of an increasing number of pupils with autism. According to the National Autistic Society, the number of pupils in Reading with a statement for autism increased by 1.9 per cent from April 2010 to March 2011.

The school, based in Tilehurst, Reading, will cater for 50 children aged from five to 16 with autism, including those with Asperger syndrome.

To ensure each child receives a high level of support, the school will operate on adult to child ratios of 1:2 and for children with complex needs receiving enhanced provision ratios of 1:1.

Each pupil will have a mentor, who will review progress and make sure concerns are dealt with quickly.

Within the school there will be a central learning area designed to be as flexible as possible to meet the changing needs of pupils. There will also be ‘chill-out spaces’ and calm rooms to help reduce children’s anxiety, as well as individual work stations to maximise learning opportunities.

Pupils with what is considered extremely challenging behaviour and complex needs, will have access to the school’s enhanced provision, which will include individual tutor rooms, soft play and sensory rooms.

A former acting head of a children’s centre in Reading has been appointed as the school’s principal. Fiona Veitch, who worked previously at Norcot Early Years Centre, has more than six years' experience working with children with special and additional needs.

Ms Veitch said, ‘This is great news for young people with autism in Berkshire and the surrounding counties. It’s clear from the overwhelming support we’ve received from local parents, schools and groups that this type of school is much needed in the Thames Valley area.’

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