Educational Equality group continues campaign for facility

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Parents campaigning for a special post-16 educational facility for people on the autistic spectrum are pushing for progress to be made so children can continue their studies after leaving school this year.

The Educational Equality group last met with education chiefs in May during which West Sussex County Council said it had identified the need for 32 high-functioning young people on the autistic spectrum in the western area of West Sussex.

Planning permission has already been approved for an extension at St Anthony’s School, which could accommodate 24 places but work would need to start this summer for the unit to open in 2012.

Education Equality parent representative Evelyn Ashford said it had not heard from the council since this update and was now seeking a meeting between parents and the education department so plans could be moved forward.

Mrs Ashford, said the new department would financially be of long-term benefit to the community and would help young people with ASD meet their potential.

Not providing such a unit would be short-sighted.

But the future of the unit now looks uncertain.

In a statement West Sussex County Council said: “We are still exploring the way forward but it is being made significantly more challenging and time-consuming because of the present financial climate.

“We are aware of the time pressures relating to the young people concerned and are endeavouring to resolve the issues as soon as possible.”

Mrs Ashford said more than 140 parents had signed a joint open letter asking for a meeting to discuss the funding of placements for children currently on a statement of educational needs and who will need to have support until the age of 19.

The individual statements outline what, by law, each child is entitled to, and the support the education authorities need to provide to meet those needs.

Mrs Ashford said time was of the essence and funding needed to be sorted out before the end of term, otherwise some very talented young people would end up sitting on the sofa instead of being prepared for university.

“The council has a legal obligation, they have to find the money from somewhere, they have to,” she said.

“Forward planning of these places will be required to allow for individualised programmes which would give the students the best possible chance of access to suitable employment or further education in the future.

“We believe with the right support for some children with this condition, it would mean they could reach their potential as is their right.”

Mrs Ashford said the group had received a ‘huge response’ from parents at the school who were keen for the post-16 gap in education to be filled.