Parents hail Kent school pilot project for pupils with special educational needs as 'life-changing'

  • ITV Meridian Social Affairs Correspondent Christine Alsford has been speaking to staff and pupils who use The Nest at Turner Free School in Folkestone.

Parents of children with special educational needs have praised a pilot project for pupils in Kent describing it as 'life-changing.'

The Nest is based at Turner Free School in Folkestone and offers specialist support whilst educating students with additional needs within their mainstream school of around 1,000 pupils.

From the outside it looks like any normal setting, but within the classroom, pupils are working in a softer setting, which looks more like a primary school.

There are cuddly toys available to calm and comfort the pupils and there is also a chart on every desk so pupils can show how they are feeling.

Parents say it's been a game changer.

On every desk there's a chart so children can show how they're feeling. Credit: ITV Meridian

Natalie King's son Toby has a variety of learning difficulties including ADHD and dyspraxia.

She originally fought for him to attend a specialist school eight miles away in Dover, and was worried to be given a place at Turner Free School instead.

"His doctors said he wouldn't cope in a mainstream school," Natalie said.

"When I got it through I was thinking I don't know about this - really don't know. But I wouldn't change it for anything."

  • Natalie King's son is much happier in the new learning environment.

Natalie says Toby is less jumpy since attending The Nest in September, and is reading, and writing.

"I never thought he would be where he is now," she added.

The pilot scheme at Turner Free School comes after some parents told ITV Meridian that provision for SEND in Kent is worse than ever.

The man in charge of delivering changes at Kent County Council insists that things are improving but admits there is still more to do.

Cllr Rory Love said that they have had some negative feedback, but also positive feedback from parents and that they are almost half way to delivering planned improvements.

The local authority has made no secret of the fact that it is working to place more and more children with additional needs in local mainstream schools.

The council-funded project at Turner Free School could be come a model for the future, if deemed a success.

The Nest is a pilot project which was launched at Turner Free School in Folkestone in September, funded by Kent County Council. Credit: ITV Meridian

Instead of pupils spending hours traveling miles and miles every day to get specialist support, The Nest means children can access it on their doorstep instead.

Lisa Hopper, Director of Special Educational Needs & Disability said: "In the past children would go across the county in taxis - or parents driving them.

"It's so important that children in their local area can have this kind of specialist provision and not have to travel so far."

Children have access to cuddly toys to help them feel calm and comforted. Credit: ITV Meridian

Executive Principal of Turner Free School, Kristina Yates said the new project is working beautifully.

"They are surrounded by peers they can interact with at a level that's appropriate for them," she said.

"It's really boosted their self esteem and confidence but from a teaching and learning perspective it means we can adapt the curriculum.

"I think it's going to be life-changing for lots of children."

  • Executive Principal of Turner Free School, Kristina Yates

Providing specialist places in this way is also extremely cost effective. Placing children in independent schools instead costs usually 9 or ten times the amount.

The Turner Free School has funding to see the current group of Year 7 pupils right through their secondary years - until they're ready to fly The Nest in Year 11.

A second intake of 11-year-olds is due to join them in September.

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