• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

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New Teesside school for autistic children ready to open its doors to first students

A NEW school for autistic children on Teesside is ready to welcome its first students next month.

Kiora Hall has been given a new lease of life thanks to a pioneering partnership between the North East Autism Society (NEAS) and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.

The historic building, which has had a range of uses of uses since 1902 – including a prisoner of war camp – had become disused and dilapidated.

But it is now ready to start operating as a school for autistic and neurodiverse children following a £1.5m refurbishment.

A 35-strong team is in place, led by principal Nigel Rumfitt, and supported by deputies Mark Ellison and Sarah Harrison. The expert team also includes six teachers and 25 teaching assistants as well as support staff.

The school, in Ragworth Lane, Norton, will open with an initial cohort of 18 pupils, with the expectation that it will rise to 21 by half-term and 30 by Christmas.

Nigel has 20 years’ experience in education and most recently worked at Derwentside College as a specialist in information technology.

He said: “I was hugely impressed by NEAS and its personalised, tailored approach to meeting the needs of learners who are autistic or have other neurodiverse conditions. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make a difference, we’ve assembled a strong team, and we can’t wait to welcome our first students.”

Mark has specialised in special educational needs for seven years, while Sarah has spent nine years in primary education.

NEAS also intends to make Kiora Hall part of the community, and the redevelopment has been designed so that the gym can be opened up to local people. Space will also be made available for a range of other activities, including parent and toddler sessions, and community advice.

NEAS chief executive John Phillipson said: “Kiora Hall has historically been an important community hub and that’s what we want it to be again. Its primary function will be as a school, but we want it to be part of the wider community and make as much use of it as possible.”

As well as the imminent opening of the new school, NEAS has also invested nearly £200,000 in training staff at schools in the Stockton area, so that they have a better understanding of the needs of autistic and neurodiverse children.

Local councillors Jim Beall and Barbara Inman have welcomed the conversion of the building, with Councillor Beall saying: “We are delighted because the building is not only providing much-needed education and support for autistic children, but it is being given a wider community use, so it’s a win-win-win situation.”

Kiora Hall is the second new school to be developed by NEAS on Teesside, following the opening in September 2020 of The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre, which has grown quickly and now has 30 students registered.