Talks to save threatened special school

The future of a nursery school for autistic children rated outstanding by Ofsted hangs in the balance as a decision on funding is due to be made by Herts County Council.

Talks between Stevenage-based TRACKS autism and education and finance chiefs at County Hall will be held on Thursday following central government changes to the way early years’ education is funded that could mean the closure of the school.

If the school cannot convince the authority otherwise, the change will mean a nursery grant credit to parents from across the county that funds 26 per cent of its costs and gives pupils 15 free hours education, will be withdrawn.

Mervyn Terrett, chairman of the school trustee’s said: “This will threaten the very existence of TRACKS and none of us want this outstanding specialist early years centre to close.

“This is why trustees are meeting with officers to propose an alternative approach to the funding rules which we consider to be very unfair.”

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The school cites a clause in education legislation which it argues justifies funding of the kind of one-to-one service it provides and which will cost no more than the current nursery grant.

The school would be unable to survive if funding was withdrawn and its only option would be to become a not-for-profit independent nursery – with higher fees.

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The council said the change must be implemented unless the school stops charging fees which make up 32 per cent of its cost - its remaining 42 per cent is met by fundraising.

Mr Terrett said: “Technically HCC are correct, but our argument is this fails to recognise the cost of providing a dedicated, safe and positive environment for autism spectrum disorder children. It also fails to recognise the importance of early intervention and how this maximises the chance of ASD children being able to progress to mainstream education.”

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