Approve the bid for Aspire Free School in Kent, a provision for children with 'High Functioning Autism'
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Kent County Council currently pay around £17 million in transporting children with Special Educational Needs to their nearest appropriate school. For children in Swale, with 'High Functioning Autism', this is typically an hours journey. Laleham Gap School is heavily oversubscribed as are many other Kent Special Schools.
Aspire Free School team believe that children with 'High Functioning Autism' deserve to be educated in a local school, with specialist staff teaching the National Curriculum with a child centred thematic approach and plenty of opportunities to learn skills that come naturally to other children.
Kent County Council have supported our plans by commissioning all places at Aspire in the junior department and the majority of the secondary, for the foreseeable future. However, the Department for Education have not approved the bid, despite calling the first application "one of the best we have ever seen".
The free school programme is a Government led initiative, inviting parents and community groups to apply to set up a provision in areas of deprivation and demand. Swale is the second highest area of deprivation in Kent and support for the school has been vast, across parents, professionals and cross party political support.
During the second application process the team were invited to attend an interview, however the feedback received left the proposal with four areas to be rectified. This final application round, encouraged by the Department themselves and submitted in May 2015, had all four areas strengthened and the team have not been called to an interview to discuss their proposition in further detail. The Department believe that the application would apparently be strengthened by joining a Multi Academy Trust. However, we feel the Free School Programme should remain as it was intended - for community groups and parents, where there is significant demand, not for chains of academies and the potential of the vision for the school to be jeopardised.
We, the Aspire Free School team, ask Nicky Morgan, the Minister for Education, to reconsider the Department's decision not to take this much needed proposal forward and invite the application group (consisting of parents and professionals) to an interview. There is a shortage of special needs schools in Kent despite high parental demand and we request this is eased by the opening of Aspire Free School.
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