A NEW school and centre of excellence for special educational needs and disability (SEND) in the UK is to open in the heart of Chester.

Based in a Grade II*-listed building in the historic Abbey Square, Abbey School for Exceptional Children, is due to open in autumn 2020.

The day and residential school will have up to 75 places for children and young persons aged four to 19 years.

It will cater for pupils with a diagnosis of autism and/or severe learning difficulties, who may display behaviour of concern or behaviour that challenges families and services.

Employing a holistic approach, which targets learning and development through mutual engagement and participation, the Abbey School model draws on a range of academic, social, and functional activities.

The school’s highly trained multi-disciplinary team will deliver a pupil-centred, blended curriculum.

It integrates academic and social learning with Positive Behaviour Support – a framework for assessing, promoting, and evaluating behaviour change in an ethical and culturally sensitive way.

Core to the school’s approach will be a strategic research partnership with SEND experts at Bangor University and the University of Warwick.

The Abbey School Educational Research Alliance (ERA) will see Abbey School collaborate on a number of initiatives with both universities to develop the best possible educational outcomes and experiences for children and young people at the school.

The school is investing over £1 million in research, development, evaluation, and training - working closely with the universities.

Eventually, Abbey School plans to create an ‘open-source’ model for its research, where other schools and teachers will be able to access its research, and draw on the learnings and findings from ERA within their own educational settings.

Dr Katy Lee, Abbey School principal, said: “We are creating a centre of excellence, where every seed of potential is identified and nourished, where every exceptional child is engaged and important, and ultimately, a place where all school users are able to thrive.

"Our aims are to improve the life chances of our pupils through education and learning, and to extend the prospect of an improved quality of life for family members and others.

“As part of this commitment, we are harnessing and pioneering outstanding global research and educational innovations to drive positive change in the sector and create a truly outstanding educational experience.

"Our strategic research alliance with Bangor University and the University of Warwick is a key element in our approach, and one that we hope will benefit not just children at Abbey School, but create a framework, which other schools will be able to utilise.”

Professor Sandy Toogood, head of clinical services, said: “Early intervention is incredibly powerful, and we know that investing in young people early can have a significant impact on the outcome of the rest of their lives.

"Our approach will equip pupils with the tools to be able to navigate rewarding futures, where they are able to contribute to society, and play a role in making positive choices about the direction their lives take.”

Professor Carl Hughes, head of the School of Education and Human Development at Bangor University, said: “The Abbey School ERA programme will bring together high quality academic research tools and innovative approaches to monitor and explore the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process from a holistic, wellbeing focused perspective.

“Abbey’s innovative programme offers an unprecedented opportunity to work across organisations to combine learnings from globally relevant research coupled with the real world experiences of pupils and school users as we work in partnership to create new approaches to ensure the best possible educational experience.”

Professor Richard Hastings, deputy head of the Centre for Educational Development Appraisal and Research at the University of Warwick, added: “The ERA represents the next step in two decades of research developed close to educational practice in special schools in the UK.

"The chance to be involved in the design of the educational environment for a school from the start is an exciting opportunity.

"We will be working to ensure that the best research evidence is implemented in Abbey School for the benefit of the young people, their families, and staff.”

Other key initiatives being developed by the school include the creation of a new app, which will enable the school to evaluate and ensure the wellbeing of all school users, and help to ensure optimum effectiveness of teaching and high levels of engagement across all year groups.