Around 50 students, staff and parents gathered at Hinchley Wood School in Esher, Surrey, this week to mark the formal opening of the latest NAS Cullum Centre.
It's the third of four purpose-built specialist centres our charity and Surrey County Council are opening in the area, thanks to generous financial support from the Cullum Family Trust. Two centres are already open at Salesian School and Rodborough School.
The aim of the centre is to help students on the autism spectrum to thrive in mainstream lessons, by providing them with specialist support from trained staff and a calm setting to retreat to if they become overwhelmed. It is run by four school staff who’ve had training from our charity, using our 50 plus years of experience educating children on the autism spectrum.
The staff currently support four students but the centre will eventually cater for up to 20. Through the centre, students can access additional academic support and a range of other services, including occupational and speech and language therapies and life skills lessons.
Cutting the ribbon
The centre was built on top of the main building of Hinchley Wood School, which teaches children and young people from Year 7 right through to sixth form and is rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. It was designed with the needs of children on the autism spectrum in mind, taking into account how some children can be highly sensitive to light and sound. The colour scheme is low-arousal to provide a sense of calm throughout the centre. There are different teaching spaces and a chill out room, break out area and roof garden for students to go to when things get too much.
The NAS Cullum Centres are a response to a local need, identified by our charity and Surrey County Council, for specialist support for students on the autism spectrum who have good academic potential but find it difficult to learn in busy school environments. The centres will improve Surrey's capacity to offer support and education tailor-made for students on the autism spectrum, meaning fewer students have to go out of county to get the right education, making savings of up to £1.7m a year.
Mark Lever, our Chief Executive, said: “It’s a huge pleasure to be part of such an innovative project, which is going to make a real difference to children on the autism spectrum.
“Autism affects everyone differently and some children need more specialist support to thrive in mainstream school because, for instance, they are extremely sensitive to light or sound or face difficulty communicating. So when Peter and Simon Cullum outlined their vision to improve specialist support in Surrey, we were keen to get involved and share the expertise we’ve built up over the past 50 years. But it’s only been possible thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of the schools involved, including the outstanding team at Hinchley Wood School.
“With the right education and support, children on the autism spectrum can achieve great things and live full and happy lives.”
Ben Bartlett, Head Teacher at Hinchley Wood School, said: "We are delighted to have been able to work so closely with The National Autistic Society and the Cullum Family Trust to create an environment in which youngsters on the autism spectrum are able to flourish and fulfil their potential.
“It has given staff and Governors at the school great pleasure to see our first four NAS Centre students settle so well and bring so much to the Hinchley Wood School community.”
Linda Kemeny, Surrey County Council's Cabinet Member for Schools, Skills and Educational Achievement, said: “These pioneering centres mean that more pupils with autism can be given tailor-made support to learn in mainstream schools which will also lead to £1.7million-a-year savings for local taxpayers because more children will be able to remain in Surrey for their education.
"With the financial pressures we're facing, we couldn't have achieved this on our own so we're very grateful to The National Autistic Society and the Cullum Family Trust for making this project possible."
Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, helped open the centre and gave a speech. He said: “The NAS Cullum Centre is an amazing opportunity to integrate autistic children into one of the very best secondary schools in Surrey, by creating the space and facilities for specialist support. I know first-hand from my own constituency casework just how valuable this centre will be.
“It is fantastic to see Hinchley Wood School, The National Autistic Society and Surrey County Council working so closely together to make the Cullum Family Trust’s vision a reality. It just shows how we can do better at integrating special needs children into mainstream education.”
Peter Cullum CBE, Cullum Family Trust, said: "It was a privilege to share this important moment with so many students, teachers and local families.
"I first learned about the challenges and many joys autism brings when my grandson was diagnosed a few years ago. My family quickly saw the difference the right education made to his life and wanted to make sure other local children on the autism spectrum have this opportunity.
"I'm delighted that The National Autistic Society and Surrey County Council bought into our vision that we could work with such outstanding schools, like Hinchley Wood, to make it a reality. The new centre really is fantastic and I hope it will improve the lives of many local children in the coming years.
“Our long-term ambition is for the model, once it’s a proven success, to be adopted at schools across the UK."
Cullum family with students
For all details, information and advice on the admissions process, visit Surrey County Council's web pages on SEND and admissions.