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Tuesday, 5 January, 1999, 13:10 GMT
Parents open their own school for autistic children
kennedy and son
Sean Kennedy looks over the building with his eldest son
Parents unable to find a suitable education for their autistic children are to open their own school.

Anna and Sean Kennedy, parents of an eight-year-old with the behavioural problem Asperger syndrome, and a five-year-old with autism, have re-mortgaged their house to raise the funds to open a school for children with special educational needs.

"We couldn't sit back and do nothing any longer," said Anna Kennedy, as she collected the keys to the building in Hillingdon, north west London, which will be refurbished and open as a school in September.

Her elder son has not been in full-time education for over a year, instead receiving 10 hours home tuition each week. The new school, she says, will help him to catch up on the intensive teaching that so far he has been missing.

anna kennedy
Anna Kennedy: "Parents want continuity of education"
"Although awareness about special educational needs has risen, the number of places available hasn't risen to match the demand," said Mrs Kennedy.

A school in which she recently sought a place for her son had five places for 55 applicants, a situation which she says leaves parents "desperate and living under great stress for themselves and their families".

"We were always reading that early intervention was vitally important in helping with our children's problems, but we couldn't get the school places that we needed."

When the school opens, at a cost of over 600,000, there will be places for an initial 14 children, which will rise to 63 by 2002. The funding for places will come from the local authority, if parents select the school as being suitable for their children's special needs.

paul cann
Paul Cann of the National Autistic Society: "Parents should not have to do this"
Children will be taught in classes of seven, with a headteacher and staff to be appointed between now and the school's first term. The National Autistic Society, which supported the parents' efforts, will be providing advice on the setting up of the school.

In particular the Kennedys want to address the problems of children who have levels of autism which are not severe enough to guarantee a place in a special school, but which are too severe for mainstream education.

Her son first attended a mainstream school, where she says the problems caused by Asperger syndrome made it impossible for him to continue.

Founding the school with the Kennedys is another parent of a child with autism and financial support is also coming from fundraising and charity.

Anna Kennedy: "Mainstream integration is the aim"
The BBC's Keith Phillips: "This project could inspire other parents to take action"
See also:

14 Sep 98 | Education
First dyslexics-only school opens
18 Sep 98 | Education
Special needs services 'inconsistent'
24 Sep 98 | Education
Helping hand for special school
23 Nov 98 | Education
Action plan for special needs
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