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First look at latest special Aspire School in Vellum Drive, near Sittingbourne

Staff at a new £11.5 million special free school are counting down the days until children walk through the doors.

Building at Aspire School in Vellum Drive, near Sittingbourne, was completed only three weeks behind schedule.

Neil Dipple, Aspire School head teacher
Neil Dipple, Aspire School head teacher

Now head teacher Neil Dipple is looking forward to welcoming the first cohort of youngsters on Monday, September 7.

In an exclusive tour of the new premises he explained how the site will have a dedicated music, sensory room and soft play area.

The school will welcome up to 32 pupils in September, growing to 160 children over five years. Staff will be recruited as the school grows over this time.

Mr Dipple said he has already got 24 spaces filled and expects that to grow to about 28 or 30 by the time September comes around.

Youngsters will need to have an Education, Health and Care Plan – a legal document setting out a child’s special educational needs (SEN).

One of the corridors at the Aspire School, near Sittingbourne
One of the corridors at the Aspire School, near Sittingbourne

Kent County Council can then refer them to the school.

Pupils also have to be from Swale, Thanet or parts of Maidstone and have an autism or speech and language challenges.

“We’re fortunate we’ve got a very large building with a very small number of people initially,” said Mr Dipple talking about possible challenges with the coronavirus and social distancing regulations.

“We’ve got additional space for our four classes to be divided into if it’s needed.

“It’ll be a challenge but we have the luxury of space and few people and we can put systems like one-way exit and entry in place.

Some equipment has already started to arrive for the school's music room
Some equipment has already started to arrive for the school's music room

“I really like the environment we have around us, it’s going to be a real strength of the school to have an area for every class to have their own outdoor space.”

When it is running at full capacity, there will be 21 classes with two to three teaching assistants.

Talking about why he took on the role, Mr Dipple added: “I don’t think I was interested at this point in my career to get a leadership role in an established school.

“What interested me was a brand new school, everything needs to be developed by the whole team based on what we think is best for the children who’ll come here.

“I just have to think about doing my best while letting the staff and parents put their own mark on Aspire.

The entrance to the site in Vellum Drive, near Sittingbourne
The entrance to the site in Vellum Drive, near Sittingbourne

“The name of the school was chosen because, I think, of the hopes we have for the children with the barriers they might have and it blends into our ethos.

“I like to think I’d be a head who involves everyone in what we’re doing.

“For me the most important thing is the children. Everything we’re doing is geared towards them and giving them the best possible education and life.

“To do that, I’ll have to make sure I’ve got a skilled team around me.”

A lead speech and language therapist has been appointed and it is hoped the team will grow to four.

The Aspire School is expected to open in September
The Aspire School is expected to open in September

The father-of-two said the school classrooms will be named after famous people who had autism or links to the condition, such as Chris Packham and Hans Christian Andersen.

The curriculum will include traditional subjects with a wider balance of sensory play, music and stimulating activities.

He is also planning on asking artists to come into the school and create artwork for the walls.

As well as buying resources Mr Dipple is appealing for books to be donated to the library.

He said: “I have a cousin who has Down’s Syndrome. I came into the field because my mum worked in SEN for a large part of her teaching career and I volunteered at one of her schools.

“That’s where my passion started and I trained to be a teacher working in a mainstream school but then with SEN education.”

Mr Dipple has previously worked as assistant head at Ifield School in Gravesend.

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