Last month, a letter was sent to parents and carers regarding a decision to shut the Access Centre at Chipping Sodbury School which looks after young people with autism.
In the letter, Hilary Smith, a service director for South Gloucestershire Council, explained that an agreement which had been in place to maintain this unit would end in June 2024.
She said: “We are aware that this is a very popular and successful provision and therefore that this news will be extremely disappointing for the parents and carers of young people currently benefitting from it.”
The centre opened in 2014 and was funded for seven years by the local authority before the school was converted into an academy.
The reasons for its impending closure are however hotly disputed.
The school’s 10-year contract with SGC expires in 2024 and the Athelstan Trust which runs it says it cannot renew the contract because its funding has been slashed.
Council leaders have however pinned the blame for the closure on the academy trust, while opposition groups say the fault lies with the council.
In a letter to parents headteacher Katherine Turner said that the £40,000 they used to receive per pupil had not increased over the last decade and that it now faced being left with a base of just £15,000 per pupil, which she says is not enough to meet the children’s needs.
Parents and carers have now launched a campaign called Save Chipping Sodbury Access Centre and their petition has already received more than 1,000 signatures.
Campaigners say that the impact of the closure on their children’s social, emotional and mental health would be considerable and that the staff had been ‘instrumental’ in turning around the lives of highly anxious autistic young people since 2014.
Parent Kirstie, whose daughter has been attending the centre since September, says she has noted an improvement in her child’s mental, social and academic achievements.
“It’s absolute disaster for the children and their families,” said Kirstie.
“Even if another school place was available, the transition could set them back years – many of these children are on the cusp of GCSEs.
“The result of this closure will be life changing, and not in a good way.”
Another parent, Anne, says the school is the only one which can meet her son’s needs.
“My son has no physical disabilities but needs a high level of support,” said Anne.
“He wasn’t considered disabled enough for some placements, and not independent enough for others.
“The Access Centre bridged that gap.
“Without it children like mine won’t be able to go to school.”
The petition can be found – bit.ly/3Sj4dyw