First special needs free school approved – new hope for autism in Leeds?

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The Lighthouse School in Leeds, Yorkshire's first free school for pupils with autism and special educational needs , is due to open next year.

A group of parents whose children have autism developed the 7-year plans for the Lighthouse, which is 1 of 8 UK special educational needs free schools to receive a ministerial go-ahead.

The school's curriculum will cover core national subjects, along with life, social and communication skills . Based in an empty former school building in Pudsey, the Lighthouse will be attended by 50 special educational needs pupils between 11 and 19.

The Department of Education received the Lighthouse business plan in June 2011. In August, the parents' group was invited to an interview at Westminster before a panel of education experts and government advisors, clearing the way for submission in October of a detailed financial plan.

Over half-a-million people in the UK are thought to suffer autism, a lifelong disability which affects learning, development and interaction with other people.

Although just 15 per cent of UK adults with autism are in full-time paid employment, most say that they want jobs.

Katie Parlett, who is among the parents leading the free school bid, said: "Our aim is to help young people with autism to gain the skills they need to pursue further education, jobs and leisure activities."

The group, one of whose goals is to forge links with the existing mainstream Pudsey Grangefield School, has the backing of Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey.

He said: "The team has worked tirelessly on their application for free school status and it is wonderful news that all of their hard work has paid off. This new school will make a huge impact on the lives of autistic children in our region."


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