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.

SPECIALIST support, patient staff and personalised learning have all helped Sophia Luker to thrive since enrolling at the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in January 2021.

Sophia, who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of five, previously attended a mainstream primary school. However, mum Samantha says the social and educational gap between Sophia and her classmates began to widen when she moved into Year 3.

“Sophia found it difficult to form friendships and she was struggling to focus during lessons and engage with activities, even with some support,” Sam, from Eston, Redcar & Cleveland, explains.

She also become very sensitive to noise and busy environments and stopped enjoying playtimes. It was really hard for Sophia and she was very anxious a lot of the time.

While the school tried its best to support Sophia, it became clear that a specialist placement was needed – which is where the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre came in.

The NEAS-operated school, which opened in South Bank, Redcar and Cleveland, in September 2020, was suggested by the Local Authority. And, having been invited for a tour, Sam says it was instantly obvious that the specialist provision would be the right fit for Sophia.

“When we visited, I found it to be such a calm and supportive environment,” she says. “I just knew it was the right place. Sophia doesn’t like too much going on so the size of the school, staff to student ratio and small class sizes were just perfect for her." 

Sophia adapted quickly to her new environment and Sam credits the experienced staff with making the transition a smooth one, by tailoring Sophia’s learning to match her interests, including her passion for horses, as well as altering the duration of lessons depending on Sophia’s needs.

“Learning for Sophia now is so fun, I don’t think she even realises she is learning,” Sam says.

Since starting at Mackenzie Thorpe, she can’t wait to get out of the door in the morning and she rushes up to her teachers with a big smile.

“She joins in with all sorts of activities, such as horse riding and trampolining, and the school keeps me informed on her day-to-day learning and what she’s been up to.”

Sam says the difference in Sophia is clear to see, adding: “For so long, Sophia lost her sparkle but the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre has given her that back. Her confidence is improving and she has her lovely smile back.

“It was a weight lifted off me as well - if she’s happy, I’m happy. Even her grandparents have said she is like a different girl.”

Samantha is now hopeful that her daughter will be able to remain at the school until she is 19, as she believes the specialist education will allow her to achieve her full potential.

“I believe, now that Sophia is at Mackenzie Thorpe, that she is in the right place and getting the support she needs, which will allow her to thrive and reach her full potential as she gets older,” she adds. “I couldn’t see that before."

Asked what her advice would be to other parents or carers who find themselves in a similar position, Sam recommends visiting potential schools and speaking to the staff.

She adds: “Mackenzie Thorpe is such a small, nurturing environment. I think it’s the perfect place for a child who is nervous or doesn’t like crowds, or large classes”

Find out more about Mackenzie Thorpe Centre