A SPECIALIST school dedicated to helping autistic children in the North-East to achieve their full potential is to be opened in March.

The North East Autism Society (NEAS) has announced that Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, will cut the ribbon on the Thornhill Park School, in Sunderland, on Friday, March 13.

NEAS is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary as a pioneering charity, which was started in Sunderland by a group of parents with autistic children, and now provides education, care, employment services, short breaks and family support for autistic children, young people and adults.

Chris Dempster, director of education for NEAS, said: “We’re proud to be supporting children and young people with some of the most complex needs in the North-East. The challenges some of these students face mean that our innovative education programmes – tailored to the needs of each young person – are the best way to help them reach their maximum potential in life.

“This new school will combine vocational learning with accredited courses, where appropriate, and help to prepare young learners aged five to 19 for the next stage in their education and in their lives.”

Existing Thornhill Park pupils will relocate from an older site to the fully refurbished and modernised new school, which will also allow the Society to increase the school’s capacity from 45 to 75 young people.

Chris added: “Every young person will receive a highly detailed assessment so we can create a bespoke programme designed to maximise their education.

“It will be unique to each child, and will not only help them reach their potential, it will also equip them with the knowledge and skills so they can make their own informed choices about health, well-being, and futures.”

The school’s timetables, which could also include social and leisure programmes, help to forge links with the local community so learning is done in a real-life context.

“We have a strong track record of working with local authorities,” Chris said, “and alongside our partnerships with local employers, we are able to improve learning outcomes for the incredible young people we have the privilege of working with.”

NEAS invited Julie Elliott MP to officially open the school, in recognition of her instrumental support in obtaining ministerial approval to purchase the new building.

Head teacher Christine Cave said: “It is a joy to hear and see pupils playing together and alongside one another in the playground and gym.

“This move has opened up learning opportunities for all pupils. Specialist rooms are accessible to all pupils and all age groups are accommodated for.

“As we achieved numerous RHS awards whilst at our previous site, we are excited to work towards these awards once more and will be creating an allotment, sensory areas, and outdoor play areas, designed and created by our pupils.”

Chris Dempster added: “The Society has invested heavily in the school’s workforce to ensure we have a wide range of teaching strategies and support for people who learn in different ways.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point. Our chief executive John Phillipson, our Trustees, and the entire team have worked tirelessly to procure the building and bring the facilities up to our standards, but when we see the children in the playground, it will all be worthwhile.”