Melton’s Birch Wood really is a special school in every sense.
Staff teach 170 children and young people aged from four to 19 with a wide range of additional support needs.
And their work is nowhere more impressive than in the programme for youngsters diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
So much so that the school has just become one of only a few in Leicestershire to gain accreditation for its autism provision from the National Autistic Society.
It comes at a time when Birch Wood is expanding with building well underway on a new £600,000 teaching block for students aged 16 and over with more complex sensory and physical needs.
A modular classroom for students to learn food preparation skills is also planned and an existing sensory room is to be upgraded into an advanced immersion room to help young people progress even more effectively.
Head teacher Rosalind Hopkins, who has worked there for three years, said the school was delighted with the autism accreditation because it recognises the important work staff do in helping local young people reach their full potential despite the challenges they face in life.
She told the Melton Times: “What makes us so happy about getting the autism accreditation is that it should be a four-year project and yet we have achieved it in just three.
“We have children and young people with a broad range of needs but we are proving that you can meet all of these needs if you organise everything properly.
“It is important that Melton has a school like ours because with all the new houses which are due to be built here there will inevitably be families with children who have additional needs and require extra support which we can provide.”
It is hoped the new post-16 teaching block, which will be sited on the Grange Drive campus, will be complete by March.
“This will be massive for us and its the first major extension since the school opened,” explained Mrs Hopkins.
“It will be a large classroomn to reflect the high staff-to-pupil ratio required, it will be age appropriate for our older students and we are very excited about it.”
The planned new immersion room is set to provide a 4D sensory learning experience for pupils unlike anything they’ve been exposed to before.
The town’s HSBC bank has provided a grant of almost £26,000 to help make it happen.
Birch Wood has also set up a flourishing food preparation and awareness programme to help students learn to cook and to learn life skills which will also help them shop and find future employment.
The planned new classroom for food specific classess will help in this respect with produce to be used fromm the school’s own garden.
And some students are already taking a food technology BTec qualification at Brooksby Melton College and staffing a community cafe there every Monday from 9.30am to 1pm to put their skills into practical use.
Mrs Hopkins said: “We try to build links with local businesses to help our students get into employment or supported employment.
“The food industry is big in Melton so we have developed classes which our young people can learn all about food and ultimately it will also help them live more independent lives after they leave us.”
For the past two years, Leicestershire County Council has worked alongside Birch Wood to help grow its autism provision to four classes - one for each key stage.
By April next year, it is planned that the number of young people on the autism spectrum taught at the school will increase with six classes in total.
There are currently 170 students at Birch Wood, which has 140 staff, and pupil numbers are expected to rise to more than 190 when the new term begins next September.
Mrs Hopkins added: “The school is becoming really popular but that figure of 190 is as big as I would like to see it become.
“We are one of the smaller special schools and this allows our staff to give our students the support and attention they need to help them flourish.”
The growth at Birch Wood relates closely to the county council’s investment of £30million on improving special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision for children and young people and creating almost 700 extra places in schools across Leicestershire.
Ivan Ould, cabinet member for children and families at County Hall, praised the achievement of staff at Birch Wood, particularly in geting the autism accreditation.
He commented: “The result really does reflect the hard work and energy that Birch Wood staff have put into reaching this high standard for our pupils.
“At the heart of these improvements has been the school’s specialist autism provision.
“The excellent work within the provision has been a driver for improvement across the whole school.”