A first-of-its-kind autism centre was officially opened at a mainstream secondary school in Chertsey on Monday 12 October.
Almost 100 students, parents and staff attended the launch of the NAS Cullum Centre at Salesian School, which will give students on the autism spectrum specialist support so they can reach their full potential.
This is the first of four purpose-built specialist centres the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Surrey County Council are opening within mainstream secondary schools in the area, thanks to generous financial support from the Cullum Family Trust. Another centre has been opened at Rodborough School in Godalming, and others are being developed at Hinchley Wood School in Esher in 2016 and Howard of Effingham School in Effingham in 2017.
The centres will be operated by the individual mainstream schools and run by staff trained by the NAS, utilising their 50 years’ experience educating children on the autism spectrum. The staff at each centre will provide up to 20 students on the autism spectrum with the specialist support they need to attend classes and give them a calm environment to recuperate in if they become overwhelmed. They will also be able to access occupational and speech and language therapies when needed.
The NAS Cullum Centres are a response to a local need, identified by the NAS and Surrey County Council, for specialist support for students on the autism spectrum who have good academic potential but find it difficult to learn in busy school environments. The centres will improve Surrey’s capacity to offer support and education tailor-made for students on the spectrum, meaning fewer students have to go out of county to get the right education, making savings of up to £1.7million a year.
More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, including around 1,500 students in Surrey, and the vast majority of them attend mainstream schools. Many struggle with things that others find easy or even enjoyable – a small change to the day’s schedule, like the school bus turning up late, can feel like the end of the world to someone on the autism spectrum. Children on the autism spectrum are often oversensitive to things like light and sound so can struggle to learn or even feel physical pain in overly bright or noisy classrooms.
Salesian School is a Catholic co-educational comprehensive school with a well established reputation which teaches children of all abilities from 11-18 years. It has over 1,400 students, including around 300 in the sixth form, which is on a separate site.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “This opening is a milestone for the NAS and Surrey. It is the first of four specialist centres opening in the area over the next two years, which we hope will transform the prospects of children on the autism spectrum and build autism local knowledge.
“We often hear from parents who say their child falls through the gaps – they’re not eligible for a specialist school but their sensory and social difficulties means that learning in a mainstream school is challenging. The NAS Cullum Centres aim to fill this gap by giving students the specialist support they need to excel in lessons in mainstream school.
“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to extend our 50 plus years’ experience teaching children on the autism spectrum to staff at Salesian School and to work towards making Surrey a beacon of autism expertise in the UK.
“All this is possible thanks to a significant donation of the Cullum Family Trust, plus support from Surrey County Council and, of course, everyone at Salesian School.”
James Kibble, head teacher at Salesian School, said: “We’re delighted so many families and staff could share this important moment in our school’s history.
“The centre has only been open a few weeks but it’s already having a really positive impact. The expertise of the staff has helped the students to get the most out of lessons and the building itself has given them a comfortable place to refocus if they become overwhelmed.
“We look forward to supporting more children with autism to reach their full potential.”
Linda Kemeny, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Schools, Skills and Educational Achievement, said: “We’re committed to ensuring all Surrey children get the best education possible and this partnership will give excellent support in mainstream schools to pupils with autism.
“We couldn’t have achieved this on our own because Surrey already faces a funding gap of £30million in each of the next two years alone to meet spiralling demand for school places so we’re very grateful to the National Autistic Society and the Cullum Family Trust for making this possible.”
Peter Cullum CBE, Cullum Family Trust, said: “The Trust is deeply committed to improving the lives of young people on the autism spectrum in Surrey, which is why we chose to invest in the centres.
“Our long-term ambition is for the model, once it’s a proven success, to be adopted at schools across the UK.”
For more information about the NAS Cullum Centres, click here.
Notes to editors
- Salesian School is a thriving and active school with a long and well-established reputation.
- It is a Catholic co-educational comprehensive school meeting the needs of children of all abilities from 11-18 years.
- The schools teaches over 1,400 students, including around 300 in the sixth form, which is on a separate site. Places at the NAS Cullum Centre will be open to both Catholic and non-Catholic children.
- For more information about the NAS Cullum Centre at Salesian School, click here.
- For more information about Salesian School, click here.
The National Autistic Society
- 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.
- The NAS relies on the support of its members and donors to continue its vital work for people with autism. To become a member, make a donation or to find out more about the work of the NAS, visit the NAS website.
- Follow the NAS on Twitter (@Autism) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NationalAutisticSociety).
What is autism?
- 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.