Bleak figures reveal need for three special schools in Suffolk in next two years
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:10 05 September 2018
Education chiefs have warned that Suffolk will need three or four new special schools in the next two years to cope with soaring demand for special education needs, as fresh data reveals the need for hundreds of spaces.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet report published this week on special education needs (SEN) painted a stark picture of the situation, with a projected rise of 18% more youngsters needing SEN care in the next two years.
The council has a legal duty to provide suitable provision for all young people with SEN, but its report warned that it has “insufficient specialist placements to meet its statutory obligations locally” resulting in long waits for pupils or youngsters being placed too far from home.
The council estimates that in the short term a further 300-400 new places are needed – the equivalent of three or four new special schools.
Current forecasts are for an overspend this year alone of £1.5-2million.
Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said: “The increase in demand for specialist educational places for children and young people in Suffolk is a matter that I am taking very seriously.
“That is why our cabinet is discussing this at its meeting on 11 September and is likely to establish a policy development panel to realise more local specialist education places, as swiftly as possible.
“The challenges we are facing in Suffolk are similar to the national picture, there is a shortage of specialist placements across England.
“We have already consulted with service users and providers on the best way to grow our local offer in the long term and the decisions at cabinet are the next steps in this process.
“In the meantime we have taken all the immediate actions available to us.”
Mr Jones pointed to the new special school opening in Lowestoft this month, and the new special school in Ipswich planned for 2020 as being key, as well as expansion at several existing special schools.
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “We have been warning of a crisis in SEN provision for some time now.
“Children are being made to pay for years of inaction by the Conservative administration – we know that our provision is inadequate yet they have stood by and done nothing about it.
“In Essex, for example, they are delivering eight new autism centres. Yet even now Suffolk County Council still have not managed to formulate a plan to deliver SEN provision, never mind building the number of special schools we critically need.
“We are years off delivering these specialist places and, in the meantime, we will continue to fail the hundreds of children who desperately need support.”