A NEW sixth form designed for young adults with autism, who struggle in mainstream education, could make the Old Abingdon Gaol their home.

The Unicorn School on Marcham Road in Abingdon has submitted a planning application, on the Vale of White Horse District Council website, to change the use of an empty unit in The Old Gaol from a restaurant to a new sixth form college.

The Unicorn School is an independent day school for children from seven to 16 years who have learning differences, such as, dyslexia, dyspraxia, language and communication needs.

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Herald Series: The Old GaolThe Old Gaol

Now, the special school is looking to “fill a gap” for those who struggle to achieve in mainstream school and provide life and work skills for young adults between the ages of 16 to 19.

The college will be located in the residential buiding The Old Gaol near Bridge Street, which is close to restaurants, shops, public transport, and cafes. It will have a classroom, an IT room and a kitchen area.

Herald Series: Andrew DayAndrew Day

Headteacher of The Unicorn School, Andrew Day, said: “We want to give them the life skills and the work skills, so when they leave us, they can contribute to society rather than potentially going on benefits.”

Alex Foster is the assistant head of The Unicorn School and is set to be the head of the new sixth form, she also is the schools special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).

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She said: “It will be in an environment that supports young adults who are on the autism spectrum that can find mainstream school incredibly stressful, we are going to have trained teachers in an approach that is needed.”

Herald Series: Inside the Old GaolInside the Old Gaol

Plans for the new school come as more than 400 children a year with educational needs are being sent out of the county because there are not sufficient schools in the area.

A national special educational needs or disability (SEND) review published this year also highlighted there is a lack of provision for people with educational needs over the age of 16.

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Mr Day explained he has even had interest in the new school from people in surrounding counties.

Herald Series: Designs for the sixth formDesigns for the sixth form

He said: “There is such a need. Over the last three to four years, we have had 250 enquiries a year about placement at this school.

“Unfortunately, for about 200 of those pupils we were not set up to meet their needs because they needed a more autistic specialist environment. That is why we decided we need a sister school.”

The school has been designed to take on 24-32 students and it could open as early as September 2023.

Read more from this author

This story was written by Rebecca Whittaker, she joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Rebecca covers education and news in Abingdon and Wantage.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Rebecca.Whittaker@newquest.co.uk or calling 07824524333

Follow her on Twitter @RebecWhitt

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