Best Ofsted report for Yarmouth centre

Staff at a Norfolk centre which has established itself as a vital lifeline for more than 100 families with autistic children are celebrating their best Ofsted report.

Staff at a Norfolk centre which has established itself as a vital lifeline for more than 100 families with autistic children are celebrating their best Ofsted report.

Inspectors found that the Autistic Way Smart Kids OK centre, in Gapton Hall Road, Great Yarmouth, was more than OK - in fact good - in every category. And they described the effectiveness of partnerships forged with parents and the wider community as “outstanding”.

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright, a patron of the charity, described the “seal of approval by Ofsted as justification in itself of the effort put in by the staff”.

The glowing report, described as a fantastic early Christmas present by centre manager and founder Jacky Porter, comes less than three years after the centre was involved in a grim battle for survival. It was only the award of a �300,000 National Lottery grant in February 2007 that finally lifted the financial clouds.

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The report, which improves on a satisfactory rating six years ago, praises everything from the focus on safety and strong leadership to the quality of activities “that successfully encourage children with autism to develop their skills in a warm and friendly environment”.

Staff have recently all been trained in Makaton, a sign and gesture language, which has proved highly-effective in overcoming the communication difficulties of autistic children.

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Mrs Porter, who battled to raise more than �100,000 to open the centre in 2001 because she found there was nowhere for her autistic son Harry, now 17, to go, said it had gone from strength to strength since the threat of closure had been lifted.

She said: “We had 34 new children come along between April and September and welcomed another four new recruits just last Saturday.

“We have more than 100 children on our books with youngsters coming from as far afield as Wymondham, Lowestoft and Norwich.”

The centre runs respite sessions throughout the school holidays to give families a welcome break from the strain of having a child with autism. It is open every Saturday, running separate sessions for under and over-eights.

There is also a Wednesday after-school club, a Thursday afternoon toddlers' group and a session one Sunday every month, to be extended to two Sundays in the New Year.

Mrs Porter said: “Having a son with autism, I completely understand the pressure that living with autism puts upon the whole family.

“Ofsted extended our registration at the beginning of this year to allow Smart Kids to care for children from their second birthday.

“This has been a lifeline for many of the families we support with the number having two or even three autistic children seemingly a growing trend.”

She said she was concerned about the lack of support for families with autistic children in Yarmouth and Waveney and appealed for potential fundraisers planning anything from marathons to parachute jumps to get in touch.

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