Plans for new autism unit as diagnoses rise in Sunderland

George Washington Primary School on Bubble Day, highlighting the plight of children with autism.
George Washington Primary School on Bubble Day, highlighting the plight of children with autism.
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A SHAKE-UP in special needs education in Sunderland could see a sensory unit close and an autism unit open.

A consultation is now underway into proposals by Sunderland City Council to end sensory provision for children with hearing and visual impairment at George Washington Primary School New adue to a drop in demand.

Also being consulted on is the proposed opening of a unit for pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at Usworth Primary School, as more and more youngsters are being diagnosed with the condition.

“ASD diagnoses in children in Sunderland has increased in recent years and is projected to increase further in future years,” a cabinet report read.

“This has placed pressure on the provision available in the city’s special schools, with a backlog of children awaiting specialist places.”

Discussions, the report said, are taking place with Columbia Grange Special School to increase capacity, but there are children whose needs can be better met with specialist support within the mainstream setting.

The plan is therefore to open a specialist ASD unit within Usworth Colliery Primary to cater for 10 children. The project will cost an estimated £10,000 to £15,000 which needs to be spent on ‘minor cosmetic modifications’ and ICT requirements’, and will be funded from the capital maintenance element of the children’s services capital budget.

There is currently specialist ASD provision at Farringdon Academy, Biddick Academy, Oxclose Academy, Oxclose Village Primary Academy, Sandhill View School, Thorney Close Primary School and George Washington Primary School.

Meanwhile, there has been a ‘significant fall in demand’ for pupils with sensory difficulties, creating a surplus of 13 places across the two sensory units, at George Washington and Thorney Close primary schools.

It is proposed that the unit at George Washington close from September with existing pupils relocated to Thorney Close.

“Whilst demand for ASD places has increased in recent years, demand for primary aged sensory provision in the city has declined,” the report stated.