Mackenzie Thorpe Centre

The Mackenzie Thorpe Centre is an independent specialist school based in South Bank, Redcar and Cleveland for pupils aged 5-19


Working together to inspire, support, celebrate and equip autistic and neurodiverse people to fulfil their potential in life.

FOR Lillie Shutler, mainstream secondary school presented a range of challenges, from large class sizes and busy corridors to a lack of understanding around autism.

However, since starting at the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in December 2020, the 14-year-old has gone from strength to strength and is thriving in her new environment.

Lillie was deemed a ‘school refuser’ because her attendance at secondary school was so poor. And the constant daily struggle took such a damaging toll on her mental health that mum Amie Hogg initially made the decision to home school her daughter instead.

“Lillie found mainstream so difficult that I thought ‘I would rather home school her than put her through this’,” Amie, from Redcar, explains. “The transition from primary to secondary just didn’t settle well with her.”

As well as pursuing a formal autism diagnosis for Lillie – a process which has been ongoing since she was four years old – Amie also secured an Education and Health Care Plan in 2020. 

This led to the suggestion that Lillie may benefit from attending a more specialist provision and the family were invited to visit the North East Autism Society’s Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in South Bank, Redcar and Cleveland.

And Amie says the difference the school has made to Lillie is clear to see and describes her as being “like a different child”.

She’s never once said ‘I’m not going to school’ which is a huge thing. It just shows that with the right support and the right provision, she can progress.

“In a normal mainstream school there are so many kids and it used to frighten Lillie. But now she actually feels that she can go, which is amazing.”

Amie adds: “Lillie has even said to me, ‘It’s weird to be listened to’ because at the other school they probably didn’t even know who she was, because you’re just a number really.”

Thanks to the support she’s received at Mackenzie Thorpe, Lillie is already thinking about her future and Amie says she is hoping to attend a mainstream college or embark on an apprenticeship.

“Lillie will tell you herself how much she’s changed just by being at this school,” she adds. “And for me, I’ve learned that I need to not wrap her up in cotton wool. She needs to do this for herself, for her to grow.”

Find out more about Mackenzie Thorpe Centre