Inside Suffolk's new special school as county tries to reform education for children with SEN

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell

Connor loves computers, PE and science. He hasn't decided if he wants to be a games designer or a chef.

He is 12 but, in lessons at Castle East Special School in Bungay, Suffolk, he mostly does work targeted at 17 and 18-year-olds.

He is one of the star students here but in his previous schools - mainstream primaries - he wasn't known for academic achievement.

"I'm autistic," he tells me. "I act differently to other kids.

"Back in those schools, I really struggled to control my anger and stuff. I would lash out a lot, so they locked me in a room."

The afternoon science lesson is full of similar stories.

Ethan tells us he was bullied at his old school but here he has made friends - and had fun.

Kris wrote a whole play over Christmas. It was about Super Mario.

"This place is really cool," he says. "It's a place for autistic children who cannot be suitable for regular schools."

Most of Castle East's students are autistic and have additional communication needs.

Connor relishes science lessons at Castle East School. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Academically many will excel, as long as they're in the right environment.

"The behaviour has been a blocker for so many of our children," says headteacher Anna Mears. "Their levels of complexity in a mainstream setting make them stand out, and when they stand out in that way, it's not always for a positive reason.

"All of our kids are incredibly able children but they just haven't found the place that they fit in mainstream provision."

In Suffolk, the SEND education system has been failing for some time.

It's an issue across the country and at its heart is the scramble for school places and suitable provision.

Castle East only opened in October. It has just 28 students but it expects to grow fast. From next year, it will be able to take up to 80.

"I have absolutely no doubt that we could fill this school three times over," says Ms Mears. "But I think it's really important that we consider how we build our numbers.

"I think taking a huge influx of children would really imbalance some of the children who are here and settled."

The challenge - for this school and many others - will be how to expand without affecting the experience of those who, for the first time in a classroom, feel like they belong.