Inside new special school for children with autism

castle east school

Pupils in the sensory room at Castle East School in Bungay - Credit: Mick Howes

A special school which is aimed at children with autism and other communication needs is going from strength to strength having only opened in October 2021.

Castle East School in Bungay opened on the former Bungay Middle School grounds and has enrolled 28 pupils but there are plans for this number to grow to 80 next academic year.

It is one of the only communication interaction provisions in Suffolk, catering to pupils as far away as Lowestoft, Rendlesham, Woodbridge, Felixstowe and Ipswich.

While academically gifted, many of its students struggle socially and come from traumatic educational backgrounds where parents and pupils alike have struggled to find adequate SEND (special educational needs and disability) provision.

For headteacher Ms Anna Mears, the school caters to a niche provision for the area against a backdrop of many pupils struggling to find adequate SEND provision across Suffolk.

ms anna mears

Headteacher of Castle East School Ms Anna Mears. - Credit: Mick Howes

She said: "We offer a mainstream curriculum because all our children are cognitively able and are able to access a mainstream pathway.

"But we offer the opportunities for our children to progress socially.

"We find parents when choosing SEND provision are often forced to pick between progressing their children either academically or socially.

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"What we aim to do at Castle East is combine these two."

castle east school

Pupils enjoy a mainstream education at the school. - Credit: Mick Howes

While the school is yet to be inspected by Ofsted, Ms Mears wants to showcase how far the school has come in a matter of months.

castle east school

Many pupils are academically gifted but suffer from educational trauma. - Credit: Mick Howes

"It will be about showcasing how much progress our children make here and what we are trying to achieve," she said.

"Our reputation as a unique education provider in the local community is building through word of mouth and we anticipate an increase in student numbers in the coming years.

"Our overriding vision is growth, raising the resilience in our children, celebrating their achievements, growing the community's understanding about what autism is and ensuring we prepare them all for a mainstream world."

sylvia knights

Sylvia Knights, chair of governors at Castle East School. - Credit: Mick Howes

This sentiment was reflected by chair of governors Sylvia Knights who is the brainchild behind the school's foundation.

She said: "The formal plan is a three year development of a maximum of 40 children for the first year, 80 for the second year and 120 for the third year.

"It is amazing to have a provision which offers that capacity given demand for SEND provision in Suffolk right now."

castle east school

Pupils at Castle East School in the library. - Credit: Mick Howes

castle east school

Castle East School in Bungay. - Credit: Mick Howes