Haverhill: Plans for free special school at Samuel Ward Academy site are backed by Government

A FREE school for pupils with special needs has been given the green light by the Department for Education.

Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill is celebrating after it received the news that its application to establish a free special school has been approved.

Called the Churchill Free School, it would be located on the Samuel Award Academy site adjacent to Churchill Avenue and would open in September 2013.

Its vision reflects the values of Churchill - “difficulties mastered are opportunities won.”

In the letter from the Department for Education, Mela Watts, director of the Free Schools Group, said: “I am absolutely delighted to tell you that the Secretary of State has decided that your bid should proceed to the next stage of the free schools process.

“This is a significant step on the journey to opening your school, and reflects the confidence we have in your vision.”

Headteacher of Samuel Ward Academy, Howard Lay, explained how Churchill Free School would be run by the Samuel Ward Academy Trust which runs Samuel Ward Academy. It would have its own headteacher and its own governing body.

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Mr Lay said: “I am absolutely delighted for the pupils and parents of the area who are desperate for this kind of provision.

“Special educational needs provision is limited across the country but becoming more and more important as the number of early-term births rise.

“We have been careful not to raise too many expectations and we still need the support of neighbouring local authorities who will need to commission places. But this is a significant step forward and we are determined to make this vision a reality.”

Mr Lay explained how the bid was partly prompted by some national research that showed the number of babies developing special needs later on in life was increasing because so many born early are surviving.

He said the nearest special needs schools to Haverhill were in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury.

“So our most vulnerable pupils are therefore travelling the greatest distance to get the education they need,” he said. “Although the education they get in Ipswich, Bury and Sudbury is excellent, there is increasing pressure on these schools to meet the need.”

Mr Lay said when Churchill Free School was full to capacity it could cater for 70 pupils from Year Six up to the age of 18, but in its first year they plan to start with about 15 to 20 students.

June McNaughton, a governor at Samuel Ward Academy and co-ordinator of the bid, said: “This is wonderful news. We have received overwhelming support from the local community and I will do all I can to ensure we meet their needs.”

Mr Lay said there still needed to be formal approval from the Department for Education for the free school.

A planning application also needs to be submitted.

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