Suffolk unveils £45m plan to create hundreds of special educational needs places
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Plans have been unveiled to pump up to £45.1million into creating hundreds of special educational needs places in Suffolk, in a bid to meet soaring demand.
Recommendations from a policy development panel were published on Monday afternoon which propose to create three brand new special schools and 36 specialist units attached to existing mainstream schools, which together will create 828 new specialist education places.
Alongside the new provision, the PDP also recommended that a clarified pathway for specialist provision is created to aid families and schools in understanding the options available.
Councillor Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “Suffolk County Council has a duty of care to provide a suitable education placement for every child of school age and young people with additional needs up to the age of 25.
“It is vital we take swift and effective action to address both the current shortfall of SEND services in our county, but also build capacity with our partners for future demand, and these recommendations do exactly that.”
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The recommendations aim to open the new specialist units for September 2020.
The SEND team confirmed that the three new special schools would be on top of existing bids, with proposals for a school on the former Riverwalk site in Bury St Edmunds to be for complex social, emotional and mental health needs.
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Two schools for those with complex communication and interaction needs are also set to be developed – one in Ipswich and one in Lowestoft.
A new special school in Ipswich on the former Holywells High School site in Lindbergh Road is already in development, while a bid was submitted in November for an autism specialist school as part of the latest wave of Department for Education special free school applications.
The recommendations are set to be approved at next week’s cabinet meeting, after which the proposals to borrow up to £45.1m will need to be signed off by the capital strategy group.
Conservative councillor Chris Chambers, deputy cabinet member, said: “We believe that with those funds and with the refurbishment of existing infrastructure and building of new infrastructure we can provide adequate places for children’s special educational needs, but also the aim is to reduce the travel time for those children as well.
The recommendations came on the day Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission returned to Suffolk County Council to inspect its SEND provision, following a damning assessment two years ago.
Jo Hammond, co-chairman of Suffolk Parent Carer Network, which works with families needing SEND provision, said: “I think it’s going to make a huge difference. The reality is there isn’t enough provision to meet the needs.
“This [provision] is desperately needed by families and I am really hoping that families can see we have got an understanding for what the needs are.
“We are going to have an offer in Suffolk that really can meet the needs of children and young people – both now and in the future.
Judith Mobbs, assistant director for skills and inclusion, said that the schools which will have specialist places have not yet been identified, although some have already expressed an interest, and a full bidding process would be launched in due course.
Those units include:
• 11 new Reception/KS1 units for early intervention
• One hearing-impaired unit for East Suffolk
• Five secondary units for communication and interaction needs
• Five secondary units for learning and cognition needs
• Seven primary units for communication and interaction needs
• Seven primary units for learning and cognition
The council’s capital investment panel will meet later this month to discuss the proposals. If approved, it will go to February’s cabinet meeting for a final sign-off when the recommendations can be rolled out.
Ed Garratt, chief officer from Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, added that the proposals would be implemented alongside health services.
Councillor Jack Abbott, Labour group spokesman for education, said: “The significance of these proposals should not be underestimated – with the right leadership and support, this could have a transformative effect on SEN provision in Suffolk.
“Yes, this will deliver hundreds of new school places that are urgently required, but it also puts a new emphasis on early intervention and improves the pathways that a child may take.
“There is still a long way to go and it will not fix all of the problems in the current system, but these proposals represent an important first step in providing the education and care that hundreds of children in our county desperately need.
“It is now incumbent on all of us at Suffolk County Council to ensure that these plans are delivered as quickly as possible and to strive towards an education system that is inclusive to all children.”
Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction
Councillor Penny Otton, education spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “Suffolk County Council’s current system for SEND provision is illogical, outdated and completely unsustainable.
“For years children in Suffolk have been forced to travel to specialist schools across the UK, purely because the council failed to have a proper plan for SEND provision.
“This represents the worst of all worlds: it harms children’s wellbeing to be so far from home, the educational standards are often substandard, and it is an exorbitant expense for the council.
“A complete overhaul of the system is needed: we have to invest in Suffolk and ensure children can access the educational support they desperately need within their own county.”