Chigwell school for autistic pupils to close after complaints from parents

A school for autistic children where parents said staff ignored concerns about students’ education and safety is being shut down.

The National Autistic Society has decided to close the Anderson School in Luxborough Lane, Chigwell, which is currently rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, at the end of July.

Last year, Essex County Council began helping parents withdraw students it had placed at the school.

Redbridge Council is also understood to have withdrawn placements but did not respond when asked for confirmation.

Parents have previously complained their children are not being properly educated, with one Loughton mum claiming her teenage son was taught primary school material.

The foundation said they felt “totally let down and bitterly disappointed”, blaming the National Autistic Society for failing its responsibilities.

The Anderson Foundation chairman Mark Anderson said: “NAS need to explain what has gone so badly wrong.

“We have requested that NAS make their intentions clear as to the future of this fantastic education facility which cost £15 million. They say they are considering their options.

“We are determined to ensure that this land and the world leading facility we built is only used in the future for education of autistic spectrum disorder children.”

The Anderson Foundation and NAS worked together over several years to design and build the school before it opened in 2017.

The Anderson Foundation claims NAS failed to run the school to standards required by Ofsted, provide high-quality autism-specific teaching or keep students safe, while NAS states it has struggled with recruiting and keeping staff since the school opened.

Kirstie Fulthorpe, director of education at NAS, said: “We are very disappointed to be closing the school at the end of the summer term.

“It’s not a decision we have taken lightly and we are sorry we have had to make it. But it is the right decision for our students’ long-term education and welfare.

“Our charity has been successfully supporting and teaching autistic children for over 50 years and started this school with such ambition and hope.

“But the school has faced a series of very challenging circumstances since it opened in 2017. Despite significant efforts to improve, we have sadly not been able to turn the situation around.

“We know it could take years to improve the school so it’s delivering consistently good quality education and support, and that would simply not be fair on our students or their families. So we have taken the very difficult decision to close the school.

“We have contacted parents and carers and will be working closely with local councils to support each student as they move on to their next school placement.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, school staff are currently supporting vulnerable children and those of key workers on site, while others are being supported at home.

Last November, Kelly Khan, the Loughton mum of a Year 9 student, decided to pull her son out of school when he became too frightened to attend.

Speaking in March, she said: “My son has fallen so behind in his education, particularly maths by dropping four levels.

“If I had these facts beforehand, I would never have sent my son to that school. His mental health is so damaged.”

When she became concerned that her son’s homework included primary school material, he told her “the teacher just give them crosswords and put the TV on for them during lessons”.

Another parent, speaking anonymously in March, said her Year 10 son used to enjoy learning, but was left unable to write, adding that from 2017 to Christmas 2018 “he had never entered a classroom”.

She said: “His temperament has changed from this laughing, loving, joking young lad to someone who is now very stern and won’t talk to anyone.

“The school has made my son into a completely different person.”


Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter