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Pioneering autism centres to open in Surrey schools

The National Autistic Society will develop the NAS Cullum Centres with Surrey County Council. Click to download.

A groundbreaking scheme between Surrey County Council and the National Autistic Society (NAS) is set to revolutionise the education of children with autism.

Thanks to a tie-up between the county council, the UK’s leading autism charity and the Cullum Family Trust, four high-achieving mainstream schools are set to get the county’s first-ever centres focused on educating secondary-age children with the condition.

More than 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism, a lifelong condition which affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. It is a spectrum condition which means that while all people with the disability share certain areas of difficulty, it will affect them in different ways and each individual will have distinct support needs.

The four NAS Cullum Centres will provide specialist support for 80 pupils with autism, allowing them to stay in mainstream Surrey schools nearer home – and they will also save the Surrey taxpayer £1.7m a year.

Surrey County Council currently has to send around 250 pupils with the condition to be privately educated because mainstream schools cannot meet their needs. And this costs over twice as much as a place in one of the new centres.

They will be funded thanks to a £4m donation from autism benefactors the Cullum Family Trust and £200,000 from the council.

The first two NAS Cullum Centres are due to open in 2015 at Salesian School in Chertsey and Rodborough School in Godalming. The centres at Hinchley Wood School and The Howard of Effingham School in Effingham will open at a later date.

Pupils’ time will be split between mainstream classes and the centres, which will focus on tailored learning techniques and social communication.

Linda Kemeny, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning, said: “We want to ensure all Surrey children get the best education possible, so this partnership will give superb support in mainstream schools to pupils with autism.

“We couldn’t have done this on our own because Surrey already faces a £215m funding gap from Whitehall on spiralling demand for school places, so we’re very grateful to the National Autistic Society and the Cullum Family Trust for making this possible.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS), said: “The NAS is delighted to be working in partnership with Surrey County Council and four local schools on this exciting project, which has been made possible thanks to the generous financial support of the Cullum Family Trust.

“Many young people with autism can find it difficult to cope in a mainstream school. The NAS Cullum Centres will make this possible by providing autism support tailored to each student, along with the opportunity to participate in mainstream school life and lessons.”

Peter Cullum CBE, of the Cullum Family Trust, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be a part of this innovative project that we believe will make a huge difference to many schoolchildren with autism. Once this initiative is a proven success we genuinely hope it will become the model that will be adopted on a UK wide basis.”

The county council’s Cabinet approved the plans on 23 September, including its own contribution.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

· Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

· Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

· The National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for people with autism and their families. Founded in 1962, it continues to spearhead national and international initiatives and provide a strong voice for all people with autism. The NAS provides a wide range of services to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome live their lives with as much independence as possible: http://www.autism.org.uk

· The Cullum Family Trust was established by Peter Cullum, the founder of Towergate Insurance, in 2006. He was awarded the CBE for his contribution to business, entrepreneurship and charitable causes in 2010. The Foundation donates in excess of £1m a year to various charities including the NSPCC, the NAS, Cass Business School, and Sussex Community Foundation.

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