GROUND has been broken to begin work on a new school for children with autism.

A team from Oldham-based Medlock Construction is now on site at Friezland Lane, Greenfield, to prepare the space for demolition of the old farm building where the new Bright Futures School will be built.

The new school building will have a total of 15 small classrooms, a room that doubles up as a sensory and immersive education space, workshop, two small dining rooms, office, reception space and staff room, as well as toilets and a shower facility.

There will also be an enclosed playground space and a landscaped garden area at the side of the school.

Bright Futures School was founded by Zoe Thompson in 2010 with her late husband Dixon Milburn when the local authority was unable to find a school placement to meet their son Philip’s needs.

The school has grown, but in 2018 Zoe and her team were informed the property they were renting was to be sold.

Then the family-run cleaning company Robert Scott stepped in and offered a site next to its mill in Greenfield so a new school could be built.

Zoe said: ‘When Daniel Scott from Robert Scott first came to visit us he was looking to help us find a new property to rent.

"We never could have envisaged that Robert Scott would end up building us a new school. We feel so incredibly lucky.

"Together, we’ve been able to design the space to accommodate our need for a high level of intensive one-to-one work with our pupils and so we have a large number of small rooms, as well as a sensory/immersive education space and a workshop. Alison, our Head of Learning, and I will also finally have a proper office to work from.

"We’re also very much looking forward to finally having an outdoor play and woodland space for the pupils so that they can take movement breaks from lessons when needed, as well as burn off some energy at break times."

And it’s not just on the new site where Bright Futures School breaks new ground. The school’s approach to autism education provision is also ground-breaking in its own right.

Shortly after her son Philip’s diagnosis, Zoe found an approach called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) that she and Dixon started using with Philip to work on some of the difficulties at the heart of autism. The approach had such a significant impact that the parents decided to set up Bright Futures School so that the principles and practice of RDI could be embedded into the school curriculum.

Zoe explained: ‘It wasn’t easy at first but after several years of RDI at home and at school, we have been able to help Philip to master some of the developmental milestones that he missed when autism got in the way.

"Consequently, his ADOS score, which measures the severity of autism, has reduced from 19 out of 22 to 12 out of 22 and our family’s quality of life has changed dramatically."

Research published in The Lancet in 2016 confirmed Zoe’s experience that parents actually have the power to decrease the severity of their child’s autism. RDI is one of a handful of interventions that meets all the criteria set out in the NICE guidelines CG170 ‘Management of autism in under 19’s’ that can help parents to do this.

Zoe continued: ‘What we have found at our school is that where pupils have received RDI through school but not in the home, the pupils have not made the kind of gains that Philip has made. They make significant improvements initially but then plateau.

"Our conclusion is that it is not possible to make the kind of gains that Philip has made without parents in the lead. Studies over the past 20 years into child development and autism reinforce this but the message unfortunately still hasn’t made its way into mainstream provision."

In January this year, a Special Educational Needs (SEN) tribunal for Philip ruled that RDI was "educational" by law.

Last month, an SEN tribunal for a pupil at Bright Futures School ruled that RDI was required in the home as well as at school in order for educational needs to be met.

Bright Futures School will now be providing a Learning Mentor trained in RDI to go into the pupil’s home during the school day to model how to put the approach into place for parents.

Zoe went on: "As a parent, you can’t just pick up a book and learn how to ‘do’ RDI. It’s a complex process that requires a lot of practice as well as video analysis of the smallest changes in back and forth social interactions between you and your child.

"It takes a member of my staff between six12 mo tonths at school practising RDI in at least one school session per day, every day, on a one-to-one basis with a pupil with no distractions in order to master how to do it.

"It involves videoing their work with the child and sending it to an external RDI consultant together with an analysis of their own use of RDI practice. This is reviewed by our external RDI consultant and written feedback is given to the staff member.

"I am a trained RDI consultant and staff also have 'in the moment' on the ground support from me in their work. I have a lot of experience in the implementation of the approach and without on the ground support, staff would take much longer to master their use of the approach.

"Some former staff struggled to master the use of RDI at all, despite intensive training and support. It’s clear to see why a parent would really struggle to put this into place without that kind of in-person, personalised guidance."

The school and parents will be writing a case study on the child who will now be receiving RDI support across both home and school settings, using the DfE funded Autism Education Trust’s Progression Framework to monitor progress against specific developmental targets.

Thanks to his own progression, Philip is now blogging on ‘Special Needs Jungle’ about his experiences as an autistic person, including how RDI has helped and continues to help him where mainstream services have failed.

To help equip the school with the facilities it needs, Friends of Bright Futures School (FBFS) – the charitable PTA of the school – has set itself a target of £50,000 to fund outdoor gym equipment, interactive touchscreen TVs, door entry and visitor registration systems as well as an immersive education and sensory space. So far, the PTA has raised £17,000 through grants and donations, including a sponsored bike ride from Manchester to Blackpool undertaken by Helen Baker, an employee at Robert Scott.

In September, pupils and staff from the school will be participating in a sponsored walk around Hollingworth Lake. FBFS is also hosting an Elvis tribute night at the Boarshurst Band Club featuring Kirk Kreole on Friday 15th November 2019.

Tickets are priced £10. For more information, or to make a donation, visit:

To find out more about Bright Futures School, please visit