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Bury speech and language centre to close as council outlines funding for outreach services

PUBLISHED: 07:30 30 April 2020

Suffolk County Council has announced hundreds of thousands of pounds will be pumped into early identification of youngsters with speech and language needs after the closure of Bury's speech and language specialist school. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County Council has announced hundreds of thousands of pounds will be pumped into early identification of youngsters with speech and language needs after the closure of Bury's speech and language specialist school. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Providers behind two of Suffolk’s three specialist speech and language schools which have been confirmed for closure have opted not to run new smaller units.

Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council said the new model for speech and language would meet the needs of pupils better. Picture: GREGG BROWNMary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council said the new model for speech and language would meet the needs of pupils better. Picture: GREGG BROWN

But Suffolk County Council has outlined plans to pump hundreds of thousands of pounds into kit which will help spot the signs of speech and language needs in pupils earlier.

The authority last year announced plans to shake-up speech and language provision which would see a greater reliance on outreach services.

MORE: Lowestoft speech and language provision to close

Education leaders said it would enable them to reach more youngsters, help them earlier, and cater for ages 4-16 instead of just the five-to-seven year olds currently supported.

However, the three specialist schools in Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich would need to close as part of the plans.

Cllr Jack Abbott  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Jack Abbott Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Instead a number of smaller specialist units attached to mainstream schools are to be set up under a £45million investment in special educational needs and disabilities, which the three speech and language schools would be given first refusal on running.

Elm Tree Primary School in Lowestoft confirmed in November that it would not be involved in any new units, and this week the county council confirmed Hardwick Primary School had also declined one of the new units.

The Hardwick speech and language provision is set to close on August 31.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “I remain deeply unhappy that Suffolk County Council will be closing all of its speech and language units and believe that they have fundamentally underestimated the need for highly specialised provision.

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“While elements of the new proposal are welcome, such as the expansion of outreach services, the closure of these life changing units is shortsighted.

“The council has presented this as an either/or choice, that you have to have outreach or specialised units, but you can’t have both - I think this is the wrong approach.

“This should be more than a numbers game, instead it should be about ensuring every child receives the right provision at the right stage of life. Given that Suffolk County Council will only be investing £250,000 a year into outreach, it was more than feasible to keep these units open as well.

“This is a really painful and unnecessary loss.”

However, the council has revealed that it was pumping significant cash into resources which would enable schools, health visitors and family support staff to identify potential speech and language needs much earlier.

Conservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans, said: “As part of the commitment we made in 2019 to improve speech and language services in Suffolk, we are working in partnership with our health partners to invest £1million a year in additional funding going forward. This includes a significant investment of over £300,000 in Speech Link, Language Link and WellComm.

“These are specialised speech and language programmes which will equip health visitors, family support practitioners, early years providers and mainstream primary schools with the skills they need to play an effective role in assessing a child’s speech and language support need and providing early interventions to support individual children and their families.

“We want to ensure there is greater focus on supporting each child’s needs as early as possible.

“Along with a team of specialist speech and language teachers in place, these improvements will ensure the new outreach service supports many more children than it does at the moment and provides them with the appropriate level of support they need through all stages of their school life.

MORE: Revamp of Suffolk speech and language education outlined

“In order to meet the needs of children with a speech and language difficulty living in Suffolk, there has been considerable work over the last two years to develop a new, co-produced service model.

“This model focuses on development of an equal and accessible service for children and their families. It allows for earlier identification of need and earlier intervention.”


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