There is a growing trend in the UK for building free schools for autism specific pupils. These schools are predominantly born from the community where they are built. Therefore parents with autistic children rallying together in a community group to birth a school for their kids.
The thought was relatively unheard of in the 1970’s but forward thinking father Paul Shattock recognised the need extra support for their six year old autistic son Jamie. The nearest residential autism centre for children then, was around 245 miles from their Sunderland home.
In a candid interview with the BBC, Paul said:
“”He slept 4 hours a night. In the end the only option we had was for him to go to a residential school. I had to take him, that was the worst day of my life, I cried my eyes out and he did too ”
Shattock, obviously unhappy at Jamie being a five hundred mile ’round trip away, rallied together his fellow parents with autistic children. Most of the parents made a huge sacrifice by re-mortgaging their homes at the time raising over 70,000 to purchase a dilapidated Jewish school in the area. Further work was put into transforming the building by Youth training schemes and the parent group themselves.
Mr Shattock said:
“It was a wreck, a real ‘seat of the pants’ operation. We spent four years fundraising. Every working men’s club in Sunderland had social events, we approached leek clubs, pigeon fanciers’ associations, rotary clubs and round tables for funds…we tried everything. It was a Sunderland venture, a local venture.”
It opened in 1980 with just two residential pupils in attendance, it was the first specialist autism school in the country offering a full residential service 52 weeks per year. But very quickly that figure grew to 12 children aged five to 16 and local authorities began to fund places.
Shattock, who is now chairman of Education and Services for People with Autism in Tyne and Weir, went on to open another school in Sunderland and became an OBE in 1998 for his services to people on the autistic spectrum.