Refurbished and upgraded property is perfect fit for Thornhill Park.

Our latest North East Autism Society school is to be opened in March – creating more places to support autistic children achieve their full potential, from across our region.

We are delighted to announce that Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, will cut the ribbon on the new and improved Thornhill Park School, in Sunderland, on Friday, March 13.

And here at the North East Autism Society we are celebrating our 40th anniversary this year too.

As a pioneering charity, started in Sunderland by a group of parents with autistic children, we provide education, care, employment services, short breaks and family support for autistic children, young people and adults.

Chris Dempster, director of education for NEAS, said: “We’re proud to be supporting children and young people with some of the most complex needs in the North-East. The challenges some of these students face mean that our innovative education programmes – tailored to the needs of each child or young person - are the best way to see their maximum potential reached in life.

“This new school will combine vocational learning with accredited courses, where appropriate, and will help empower those aged five to 19 for the next stage in their education and in their lives.”

The new school – on the former Tudor Grove site – sees the existing intake of Thornhill Park School pupils move from their old site, which was housed in an older property – relocate to a fully refurbished and modernised site which will also allow the Society to increase the number of children and young people who can attend.

Chris added: “Every young person will receive a highly detailed assessment so we can create a bespoke programme designed to maximise their education. It will be unique to each child and will not only help each person reach their potential, it will also equip them with the knowledge and skills so they can make their own informed choices about health, well-being, and futures.”

The school’s timetables, which could also include social and leisure programmes, work to forge links with the local community so learning is done in a real-life context.

“We have a strong track record of working with local authorities,” Chris said, “and alongside our partnerships with local employers, we are able to improve learning outcomes for the incredible young people we have the privilege of working with.”

NEAS purchased the Tudor Grove facility, a former pupil referral unit, from Sunderland City Council, to transform into the new Thornhill Park School, increasing student capacity in the Sunderland area from 45 to 75. 

Additional staff have also been recruited to cope with the increasing demand for the specialist school places.

NEAS invited Julie Elliott MP to officially open the school, in recognition of her instrumental support in obtaining ministerial approval to purchase the building.

Head teacher Christine Cave said: “It is a joy to hear and see pupils playing together and alongside one another in the playground and gym.

This move has opened up learning opportunities for all pupils. Specialist rooms are accessible to all pupils and all age groups are accommodated for.

“As we achieved numerous RHS awards whilst at our previous site, we are excited to work towards these awards once more and will be creating an allotment, sensory areas, and outdoor play areas designed and created by our pupils.”

Chris Dempster added: “The Society has invested heavily in the school’s workforce to ensure we have a wide range of teaching strategies and support for people who learn in different ways.

“It’s been a long road to get to this point. Our chief executive John Phillipson, our Trustees, and the entire team have worked tirelessly to procure the building and bring the facilities up to our standards, but when we see the children in the playground, it will all be worthwhile.”