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New Bishop's Stortford secondary school set to support autistic students



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Parents and teachers have welcomed moves to provide specialist resources for autistic children at Bishop’s Stortford’s new secondary school.

A consultation by the Avanti Schools Trust – which will operate the yet-to-be-built campus off the A120 bypass for the Stortford North development – and education authority Hertfordshire County Council showed overwhelming support for the proposals to help up to 20 students with social communication difficulties from September 2023.

The feedback will be discussed by the authority’s children, young people and families cabinet panel on Monday March 15.

The playing fields for the new Bishop's Stortford North secondary school will be on the other side of the A120 bypass with a footbridge connecting the two sites
The playing fields for the new Bishop's Stortford North secondary school will be on the other side of the A120 bypass with a footbridge connecting the two sites

One Bishop’s Stortford parent told them: “As a mother of a child with an autism diagnosis and EHCP (education, health and care plan) and also as a teacher/learning support assistant working with children with additional needs in a local school, I think that this proposal would be amazing!

“I feel that there's a huge gap in provision for children with autism in our area, and the transition for my son into secondary school is a constant worry to me, even though he is currently only six. I truly hope that people will support this project as it would have an amazing impact on lots of children’s lives and that of their families.”

This was also the view of the town’s educators, including the Herts & Essex Multi Academy Trust (HEMAT), which comprises the Herts and Essex High School and Manor Fields Primary. It was in the running to operate the secondary and two new primaries, including Avanti Meadows, for Stortford North but lost out to Avanti.

The Avanti Schools Trust's motto is 'Excellence, Virtue, Devotion' (44827749)
The Avanti Schools Trust's motto is 'Excellence, Virtue, Devotion' (44827749)

It said: “We, with the full support of our governors, agree with the proposal to develop a specialist resource provision (SRP) at the new Avanti secondary school for pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) with social communication difficulties, including autism.

“We believe that this is an excellent opportunity and will serve the local community well, ensuring that these pupils will reach their academic potential.”

HCC is developing SRPs at a range of mainstream schools to support an increasing number of pupils with speech, language and communication needs who have a broader and more complex level of need, including autism and social communication difficulties, that can be met in the existing provision.

The authority said: “This means that more children are being placed in independent specialist provision or, unnecessarily, in special schools.

Avanti Meadows Primary School, Farnham Road, Bishop's Stortford. Pic: Vikki Lince (44827738)
Avanti Meadows Primary School, Farnham Road, Bishop's Stortford. Pic: Vikki Lince (44827738)

“These pupils need access to a mainstream curriculum and academic challenge, balanced with a safe space to be in, where work can be done to support self-regulation, build resilience and protect emotional wellbeing.”

The Avanti Schools Trust board wants to develop an SRP in Bishop’s Stortford because its approach to education is underpinned by an “inclusive and holistic” approach and a “collective view that we are unique beings with incredible potential”.

Children will need an EHCP to be admitted to the SRP and will also have social communication difficulties, including autism and greater needs than can normally be met at a mainstream school. In addition to this specialist provision, the unit’s youngsters would join sessions in the main school with their age-group peers.

After the panel considers the consultation response, the proposal will be considered by HCC’s executive on March 22. If it approves, the next step is for Avanti to submit a business case to the Regional Schools Commissioner in April. A final decision is expected in July.

Cllr Colin Woodward, county councillor for the Stortford West division, said: “I see this as the start of long-overdue local improvements which may provide the much-needed support for children and their parents.

“Having battled ‘the system’ ourselves decades ago, I do not underestimate how difficult it can be as parents seek the right provision for their children as council and schools try to do their best with understandable resource limitations.

“The Avanti Trust are new to Stortford, but from my early dialogues with them I anticipate that they will be keen to engage, particularly with parents, in the shaping of provision.”

Planning permission for the secondary school was confirmed late last year. It will serve students living in the 2,600 homes on the separate Stortford Fields and St Michael's Hurst estates. It is hoped classes will begin in September 2022.



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