ACS plans to start special needs school

Pilot programme for autistic children may be rolled out next year

ANGLO-CHINESE School (ACS) plans to start a special needs school as part of its drive to be inclusive.

A pilot programme is expected to be rolled out next year at ACS (Independent) and ACS (Barker Road), subject to approval from the Government.

Chairman Richard Seow of the ACS board of governors told The Straits Times that the aim in siting the special needs school at the two schools is to get the students to mix and interact daily.

"When we talk about inclusiveness, we have an ACS school for almost every single type of learner," said Mr Seow, referring to the existing six schools which include primary, secondary, international and a junior college.

"The one area we don't have a school for is special needs. That, to us, is part of our mission to be inclusive, to make sure the ACS brand of education is available to all," he said. "It's not just an elite school dealing with the academically gifted or the sporting and artistically gifted people.

"It's the most exciting thing we're doing right now."

A working committee for this seventh ACS school is headed by ACS (Independent) principal Winston Hodge and ACS (Barker Road) principal Peter Tan.

While existing ACS schools do have students with learning disabilities, the new school is expected to cater to lower-functioning autistic children who cannot get into mainstream schools.

The committee has done some market testing and received "overwhelming support" from parents and alumni, said Mr

Seow. Parents with special needs children are particularly excited because of the long waiting lists at such existing schools.

The committee, which is working with the Education Ministry, the Methodist Church and educational experts, is ironing out details such as intake size and ages that the school should cater to.

Those who cannot afford the fees will be taken care of, said Mr Seow.

He said he hoped mainstream students would mentor the special needs students and develop a caring mindset.

"There is a tendency for some students to be a little too inward-focused, where they think about their success, about themselves, and how to get ahead," he said, calling it a "misplaced sense of meritocracy".

Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng welcomed the ACS move.

"To have another school with the passion to cater to special needs students is very worthy and very courageous of them," said Mr Ang, adviser to Grace Orchard School for children with mild intellectual disability and mild autism and an Autism Association board member.

Another area that ACS is keen to explore is a residential programme for the special needs students at ACS (Independent) and Barker Road boarding schools. It will help them to learn to live independently in a community and offer some respite to their parents, said Mr Seow.

The committee is aware of the resources and trained educators needed, he said. The plan is to start small and get the programmes right, he added.

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