IT has been five years in the making but work has now started on ambitious plans to build a specialist school in the heart of Essex.

Construction work has begun on the Chatten Free School and it is hoped the facility will welcome the first set of students at the start of the academic year in September 2021.

In what will be a first for the county, the school will offer education for children diagnosed with severe autism.

It will welcome youngsters between the age of four and 19 with each student provided one-to-one teaching.

Adam Dean has been appointed headteacher of the new school and for him, welcoming students next year will mark the end of a five year journey.

Mr Dean said: “It all started back in 2016 when me and my boss Gary Smith - the head of Market Field School in Elmstead - began asking for a school for severely autistic pupils.

“One of my former pupils Bradley Chatten was severely autistic and we couldn’t offer the education he needed.

“But there was nowhere in Essex for him to go so he ended up going more than 100 miles away out of the county just so he could go to school.

“He was separated from his parents which was so hard for everyone.

“Myself and Gary asked the county council if we could get a school built for children with severe autism.

“They were on board with it straight away. It’s taken longer than we thought it might but it will be exciting when it opens.”

The school, which will be based off Rickstones Road in Witham, has been named after Mr Dean’s former pupil Bradley because his story was the driving force behind the project.

It has capacity for 75 pupils, many of which will come from the Essex area, and will help address the strain on special educational needs services in the county.

Mr Dean said the school will be split into three sections to separate children into age categories.

They will all be given the chance to use a range of facilities to help them with both academic and life skills.

Mr Dean said: “There will, of course, be places for the children to learn but the school will be about so much more than that.

“There will be life skills areas, like a mocked up flat and kitchen, where the children can learn basic things like cooking.

“It’s so important they get taught these skills at an early age because it becomes so much harder for them to learn as they get older.

“The hall is going to be set up like a shopping mall and will have a couple of shops in it. There’s going to be a café, public toilets and a pretend doctors and dentist.

“It’s so much harder for children with severe autism to get used to going to these places and using them. It’s something we all take for granted.”

Halstead Gazette:

  • Bradley Chatten

A consultation on the new school is underway and education bosses are asking for prospective parents to give their feedback on the plans so far.

And while education will remain key to helping pupils during their time at the school, Mr Dean hopes the benefits will have a much greater impact on their lives.

He added “I hope the school will have a really significant impact on not just the children’s lives, but also their families.

“The vision is our pupils will one day leave and be able to access the world in meaningful ways and feel safe in our communities.

“It is beyond exciting to see the footprint of the building going down and I can’t wait to see our first pupils arrive in September.”

For more information or to fill out the survey on the plans, visit chattenfreeschool.co.uk.