Autism school to reopen - but minister rules against Redbridge running it

The Anderson School in Chigwell

The Anderson School in Chigwell, which closed in 2020 - Credit: Google

A specialist school for autistic children in Chigwell is set to reopen - but a senior minister ruled it will not be run by Redbridge Council.

Minister for Housing Stuart Andrew was asked to step in to resolve a dispute between Redbridge, Epping Forest District Council and the National Autistic Society (NAS) over who could reopen the Anderson School.

The school closed after only three years in September 2020 following “serious behavioural incidents”.

Redbridge struck a deal to take over the school and planned to re-open it as a more general special needs school.

But Epping Forest objected, citing its previous agreement with NAS that the school would only cater to autistic children.

A planning appeal was passed on to Mr Andrew, who ruled Redbridge should not take over as this would likely result in “some reduction” in options for children with autism.

The minister did make a concession, approving a change to the planning condition to allow the school to be run by “an autistic spectrum disorder school provider” instead of the NAS directly.

Redbridge Council declined to comment on the decision, but has previously said it is “actively identifying alternative options” for special educational needs provision.

Following the planning decision, the NAS has announced special educational needs provider, Witherslack Group, will run the school.

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Witherslack, who hope to reopen the school “as soon as possible”, are a special educational needs provider with more than 60 schools and children’s homes across the country.

Caroline Stevens, NAS chief executive, said: “We are delighted that Witherslack Group will be providing specialist education to local autistic children and young people at our former Anderson School in Chigwell.

“We received a number of very strong proposals and believe that Witherslack Group are well placed to offer excellent support. They are well-respected and experienced, with a proven track record.

“We would like to take this moment to apologise once again to students, families, carers and our staff for failing to live up to the ambition we had for our own school and for the disruption and uncertainties our decision to close has caused.”

Witherslack runs three other schools in south-east England: Chilworth House School and Chilworth House in Oxfordshire and Queensmead House School in Windsor.