Specialist school for children with autism could open next year in South Cambridgeshire
A groundbreaking new school for children with autism looks set to open in Impington next year – addressing a costly shortage of provision within the county.
The Cavendish School will specialise in the education of children with Autism Spectrum Condition and be based on the Impington Village College campus.
The Learning Alliance, the trust which will operate the school, says it will be unique with it being the first state-funded school for autism in the UK, and the first International Baccalaureate World School for young people with autism.
South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee voted unanimously in favour of granting permission for the new school on Wednesday (September 9), although final approval will be subject to certain conditions being met.
The trust says the free school will address a countywide shortage of provision for those with higher functioning Autism Spectrum Condition, and provide much needed specialist provision for those who do not currently have access.
In its planning application submitted in December last year, the trust said that Cambridgeshire County Council places around 70 such pupils “in very costly independent or ‘out-of-county’ schools”.
The new school will accommodate up to 80 young people aged seven to 19, and is planning to open within the academic year 2021/22, if not in time to start the new academic year.
The planning application also includes an extension to the current Impington College Building, including three new classrooms.
According to the planning application, Impington Village College currently offers special educational needs provision for 22 students between the ages of 11 to 16 with learning difficulties.
Speaking for the trust, its deputy CEO, Ryan Kelsall, said he is “delighted” with the committee’s decision, and is “hugely excited about the next steps of bringing this school online”.
Making the case to grant planning permission, he told the committee: “The school needs to open in the academic year 2021/22.
“The Cavendish School will provide education for a large number of students with autism diagnoses, many of whom are currently not receiving appropriate education or are accessing extremely expensive private provision at significant cost to the council at a time when the high needs education budget in Cambridgeshire is already approximately £18 million in deficit.
“There are currently over 100 young people in Cambridgeshire that should be being educated in special needs school who are not. Failure to open the Cavendish School in the academic year 2021/22 will mean that these young people will continue to be able to access the educational provision they require, deserve and are entitled to by law”.
He told the committee that the trust now faces the “the challenge of building and opening a school in less than 12 months”. Had planning permission not been granted, he said it would cause “further anxiety” to the vulnerable children and their families who would need to wait a further year to access the facilities they need.
He said the trust is “aware of the transformative impact that the right provision can have on the lives of young people with special needs and their families,” adding: “As a trust, we are committed to delivering the excellent provision for those most in need”.
Councillor Anna Bradnam said: “I’m very aware of how short we are of this specialist school provision, and so I’m very pleased to see this happening right in the area where it’s needed. We have very many children who are being taken long distances by taxi to appropriate schools, so having it here would be wonderful”.
Councillor Pippa Heylings said the committee had heard how the issue is “time critical”, adding that there is an “urgent and important need for state specialist provision for high-functioning autism”.
“It’s not just a benefit to the local ward, but also for many families across the county, and we are very proud that this is being built on such an excellent track record of this kind of provision being given locally already,” she said.
The Learning Alliance is a new trust created through the merger of the Morrison Education Trust and the Cambridgeshire Educational Trust.
The planning application was recommended for approval and voted for by councillors despite planning officers concluding “the development would represent inappropriate development that is by definition harmful to the green belt”.
Planning officers recommended the application on balance because of the “very special circumstances in this particular case in terms of the need within the county for the provision of state specialist provision for higher functioning Autism Spectrum Condition in a sustainable location with good links to Cambridge and that has an excellent track record for supporting children with autism”.
The final granting of planning permission will be subject to the completion of an ongoing consultation and other conditions, including referral to the secretary of state as the development is a departure from the local plan.