Paige is proud of turning her life around since she started at Thornhill Park School at the age of 17 after more than a year out of education.

Paige joined the Sunderland specialist school in September and, though it took her a couple of months to settle, is now making friends and flourishing.

The 17-year-old says: “When I started at Thornhill, I thought it was my last chance. I feel happier now and I’ve made a lot of changes. Now I enjoy having fun with the staff and going out.”

Her teachers are proud of the progress Paige has made. Class teacher Kelly Ferguson says: “Paige has changed her life. She got over the fear factor and is interacting well with her peers and staff. Everyone is so proud of her.”

Paige was diagnosed with autism and deletion of chromosome 17 when she was four and spent 11 years at Cedars Academy, a specialist school in Gateshead.

But when her parents Alexis and Andrew moved from Winlaton to Hadston in Northumberland, no appropriate provision could be found for her and she ended up staying at home for over a year.

Mum Alexis says: “It was difficult to have a structure and a routine, and it had a damaging effect on her mental health.” 

Alexis’s own health problems meant they didn’t get out much and Paige became more withdrawn. “She stopped playing in the garden and would stay indoors all the time, drawing at the dining table or in her bedroom. When we did the weekly shop, she would stay in the car rather than come in,” Alexis says.

Finally, Paige got a place at Thornhill Park and started in September on its Independent Living pathway. She started on three days a week but has recently upped that to five days.

Alexis says: “Right up until November, she had a really hard time settling. But the school knew what they were doing and showed Paige that they cared and would stick by her.

“What a school! The help and support I’ve had from them is second to none. Her teacher gets in touch on an evening or a Sunday letting us know who Paige will be working with the next day and telling us how she’s doing.

Since she’s been settled, they are taking her to shops, the beach, the park and the Tim Lamb Centre. She’s a lot happier now and it’s lovely for me to see that. 

“I cannot praise the staff enough. They’re fantastic.”

Class teacher Kelly describes Paige as “kind and caring with a brilliant sense of humour”. Paige loves art and does pictures for her classmates’ birthdays. She has also been praised for helping new pupils settle into the school.

The impact has been seen at home, too, where Paige has started going into shops with her mum. “She’s doing so well. We are really proud of what she is achieving,” Alexis says.

Find out more about Thornhill Park School