Lambeth Council is pressing ahead with preparations for a new school for dozens of children and young people on the autism spectrum.
The council has agreed to sell a site in Lollard Street, Kennington, to the Education Funding Agency to enable the NAS Vanguard School to go ahead. The new school, which will be run by the NAS Academies Trust, will eventually cater for 78 students on the autism spectrum aged 11-19, some of whom have accompanying learning difficulties.
The council worked with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to identify a suitable location for the new facility, and the Government Education Minister approved the Lollard Street site for use as a free school earlier this year.
Councillors have pledged to ensure that the facilities at the new school would be available for the use of the local community, including the Ethelred Estate Community Youth Centre (EECYC), which currently occupies the site.
The Council has now confirmed that, when the school opens in late 2017, the gymnasium/school hall, meeting room, kitchen and storeroom will be made available to the community for 25 hours a week.
While the school is being built, the EECYC will be able to use local schools and community facilities for their activities including basketball, volleyball and dance classes – at the council’s expense.
In an official letter to the EECYC’s management, the council has also offered to cover the cost of the club using additional alternative premises for their activities. The 18-month support package also includes proposals to meet the cost of training staff or volunteers and additional consultancy help.
Cllr Imogen Walker, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “For too long, too many of our children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder have had to travel outside the borough to get the education they need. The Vanguard proposal is an exciting solution to this problem and, after so much hard work, I am pleased that we are moving so quickly to get this school established.
“But, although everyone agrees that this is a vital project, it is important that we ensure those people affected by the proposal are properly looked after. I am glad that we have managed to put together a package that will guarantee the community still has access to community youth, sports and leisure facilities while the new school is being built – and when it is finished.”
The NAS Vanguard School, spearheaded by local parents, is an innovative response to the shortage of Special Educational Needs (SEN) places in Lambeth, which has forced many children and young people to attend schools outside the borough.
The NAS hopes to start building work on the site once planning permission has been granted later in 2016, with the first pupils arriving towards the end of 2017.
The NAS Vanguard School will form part of the Council’s plans to increase the number of places for SEN pupils within the borough, although parents of children and young people on the autism spectrum from neighbouring boroughs will also be welcome to apply.
In response to an SEN Review in 2012, the Council has also been developing 105 additional SEN places in mainstream schools and academies, and 45 ASD places in primary schools.
The changes will save the taxpayer money by ensuring that children on the spectrum don’t have to travel outside the borough to get the right education. However, the Council has made a commitment that no pupil will be moved from their current placement unless they and/or their family want to switch.