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Fresh fears for Suffolk speech and language education as council fails to discuss options

PUBLISHED: 07:30 03 January 2020

Elm Tree Primary School, in Lowestoft. Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

Elm Tree Primary School, in Lowestoft. Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

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Fresh fears have been raised over specialist speech and language provision in Suffolk, after education chiefs refused to discuss plans following the announced closure of one facility.

Cllr Jack Abbott said there was no coherent plan in place. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Jack Abbott said there was no coherent plan in place. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Changes to speech and language services announced in mid-2019 confirmed the three specialist centres in Lowestoft, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds would close, but those providers would be given first refusal on running new units attached to mainstream schools.

However, the Evolution Academy Trust has confirmed it will not continue running provision at its Elm Tree primary school in Lowestoft beyond July 2020.

Suffolk County Council has said the matter is ongoing and refused to discuss what alternatives were being explored, prompting fresh fears that families would be left without appropriate support.

The academy trust in November even said that the council's new model for speech and language services "did not feel like it would work" for those students and their families.

Councillor Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman at the county council, said: "Speech and language units have been life changing for so many children in Suffolk and, after months of campaigning against their closure, it finally felt like the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council were listening by agreeing to keep them open.

"However, it now feels we are back to square one with their future being put in jeopardy, once again.

"There seems to be a lack of a coherent plan - if existing providers do not want to continue, then what is the strategy to ensure that these invaluable units are not lost?

"On too many occasions over the past few years, Suffolk County Council have gone to ground instead of providing clarity and answers. You would have thought that lessons would have been learnt, but families are still being left in limbo. No wonder trust is so low.

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"It should be expected that the Conservatives will keep their promises to families and fulfil their own policy directive, by ensuring that specialist units are retained alongside outreach services.

"If existing or new providers are not forthcoming, then it is incumbent on the council to establish new units directly - Suffolk cannot afford to lose this critically important provision."

The council also refused to say whether the providers in Ipswich and Bury had announced their intention to continue provision.

The council's new model aims to provide better outreach support that will cater for a wider age of children, as those three centres only support those aged five-seven.

A council spokeswoman said: "Part of this new pathway involves an outreach service from September 2020 where specialist teachers, alongside speech and language therapists, will support children and school staff within their local school.

"The outreach service will be available to children of all ages and throughout their school career.

"In addition to outreach support, children with the highest level of need will be able to access new Reception and Key Stage 1 specialist units which are being established across Suffolk.

"The three schools who currently have a speech and language unit were given the opportunity to provide one of these new units.

"The Evolution Academy Trust have decided not to do this at Elm Tree Primary School, and whilst we are disappointed, we fully respect this decision.

"Our priority is to work with families and the team at Elm Tree School to ensure that each child is supported with the right offer going forward."

It is not yet clear when a decision on whether another provider will run a specialist unit will be made.

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