Funding welcomed for autistic pupils

Redbridge parents of children with high-functioning autism have welcomed “long overdue” funding to help them attend mainstream secondary school.

On Tuesday, council leaders agreed to pay for 28 places for autistic children at Caterham High School and converting an outbuilding into a “dedicated specialists base”.

The cabinet also agreed to create 21 new places at Newbridge School, which serves children with more complex learning difficulties, by adding a three-classroom “modular” extension.

Abby-Lee Widger, mum to two boys with autism, said it’s a “disgrace” that more mainstream places for children like her sons were not already available.

She added: “This is long overdue, Waltham Forest have had their outstanding provision at Frederick Bremer school for many years.

“High-functioning autistic children have been farmed out of the borough for a long time now, this is how shocking it is.”

Abby-Lee said one of her sons now has a degree from university.

She added: “My children also had academic ability, Newbridge and Hatton are outstanding but they are for children with more severe learning disabilities.”

The four additional places a year at Caterham High School will help meet a “substantial growth in demand” for special needs education in the borough, according to a report prepared for the meeting.

The council also hopes to save money it would otherwise have spent sending children to private or specialist schools.

Such places cost an average of £50,000 a year, whereas places at Caterham High School will cost just over £20,000 annually.

A review of special educational needs in the borough recommended the council creates 140 new places for pupils with special educational needs by 2023.

So far, including 28 places created at Cranbrook and Mayespark Primary School in 2019, the council has so far managed about half of this figure.

However Abby-Lee, who runs a local Facebook group for parents with autistic children, said four places in each year is “not enough”.

She added: “28 places a year might be more like it.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter