Published: 20 October, 2011
by TOM FOOT
First-class facilities for autistic kids
THE teenage boy guiding parents around Camden’s new centre for autistic children recalled how the forgotten corner of Acland Burghley secondary school had previously resembled a scene from a horror film.
The youngster was showing off the disused changing rooms and storage space that have been transformed into a visionary school-within-a-school.
Fenced off, but flanking the main playground, the modern block will help integrate children with Autism Spectral Disorder (ASD) who might not otherwise have been given access to a mainstream school environment.
Children inspected the “resource base” on Friday, passing comment with all the close attention to organisational detail that comes with the complex neural disorder.
Architects said they had incorporated autistic children’s ideas into the designs – and the kids gave the blue and green modern building the thumbs-up.
Acland Burghley headteacher Jo Armitage said: “The school already provides effectively for students with a range of special educational needs and disabilities, including those with ASD.
“This resource base will enable the school to meet the needs of students who would not otherwise be able to benefit from mainstream teaching.”
A similar base for Camden’s primary schoolchildren opened yesterday (Wednesday) in Kentish Town C of E school primary in Islip Street.
Ms Armitage presented flowers to “miracle people” who she said had worked overtime to get the project up and running, praising the “enormous partnership” with Camden Council, architects and contractors.
Teachers and officials from the Town Hall, including former Acland Burghley head Michael Shew, now the council’s head of secondary school improvement, talked to parents of pupils who may attend.
The building has space for 20 autistic children, most of them currently too disruptive to be taught in classrooms.
They will be partially integrated into the school, joining lessons with other children and walking through the playground to get to the building.
The important borough-wide facility – with special sensory rooms, computer facilities rooms and a “calming space” – was supposed to have been funded through the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.
But despite BSF being scrapped by the coalition government, Camden Council has gone ahead with it anyway.
The Town Hall believes it can make back the £1million invested in the building over a few years because fewer children will have to be sent to expensive specialist schools outside of Camden.
Andy Knowles, former headteacher at Hampstead secondary school and now the Town Hall’s children’s services director, said it meant the local authority would not have to rely so much on “out-of-borough provision” that was, at times, “nothing like the standard that would be provided at Acland Burghley”.
While the centre will help the council educate more Special Education Needs (SEN) children, the Town Hall is facing new challenges following the expansion of the academy schools programme.
At a conference in July, Alison Farmer, the council’s head of SEN, said academies – which can choose not to admit autistic children – were disrupting Camden’s autistic “community”.
In her speech, which has recently been uploaded on YouTube, she said: “The challenge, of course, for local authorities with academies, is admissions.
“We have already found that out to be a challenge with children with special education needs and it has been quite stressful for some of the parents in the local authority in which I work.
We would hope that is addressed in any future legislation.”
• For more information about autism and school places visit www.