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Academy defied county council to get a special school in town

Thursday, 20th September 2012.

Haverhill is on course to get its free school for children with special educational needs - but no thanks to the county council.

Haverhill business people heard an inspirational account of how Samuel Ward Academy defied a refusal by Suffolk County Council to back its bid for a special school in the town.

County councillors were afraid it would dilute the available cash for other special schools in the county.

But the academy went ahead with the bid anyway, despite local authority support being virtually a prerequisite for success.

This summer the Department for Education accepted the bid, which cleared the way for the school to be set up, to open this time next year and save Haverhill children and their parents having to travel long distances to school.

Approval for the bid is still dependent on the county council now backing it by committing to purchase places at the school, but the academy is hopeful this will be forthcoming.

A key element in the success of the bid was the support of other senior head teachers in the area.

When Samuel Ward head Howard Lay and his team went to the interview with the DfE, they were accompanied by the head of the town's other senior school, Castle Manor Academy, the head of a special school in Bury St Edmunds and the head of a Haverhill primary school, all of which had been adjudged 'outstanding schools'.

June McNaughton, the Samuel Ward governor who has led the special school project, told businees people at thebestofhaverhill monthly meeting at Days Inn this morning that this made the panel sit up and take notice of them.

It was one of their few advantages, because they only made the decision to bid in January, with the closing date being the end of February.

This meant there was no time for many of the stages that other bidders who had started in September had been able to go through to gather support from parents and the community.

The county council refusal to back the bid also meant it was very unlikely to succeed.

Mr Lay said that at a meeting a few days later a county council official had assumed they would no longer continue with the bid. Mr Lay replied they had no intention of giving up.

Mrs McNaughton said success seemed so unlikely they had decided to use the bid this year as a practice run for another next year and were amazed when they were invited for interview.

In the end it was the confidence with which they presented the bid that clinched it, along with some effective letters from local parents.

She said there were now ten days remaining for them to get the letter of backing from Suffolk County Council and they were 'pretty confident' they would get it.

The school, called Churchill Free School, will be situated next to the Samuel Ward site, allowing many of its students to achieve 80 per cent of lessons in mainstream.

It is for children with needs in the autistic spectrum and high-performing Aspergers Syndrome.

Haverhill's town mayor Cllr Pat Hanlon, a long-time campaigner for a special school in Haverhill, and chairman of the local branch of the National Autistic Society, told the meeting many famous people had suffered from Aspergers and children with it could do very well in the right environment, but often struggled in mainstream education.

The school will provide 70 places for students aged eight to 18 who, until now, have had to travel to special schools in Ipswich, Bury, Sudbury or even further afield.

Mr Lay said: "Suffolk County Council opposed it and seven other bids in the county. But it is really important for the town.

"The most vulnerable pupils in our community currently have to travel to Ipswich. In my view that is an outrage."

Haverhill Online News

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