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School trust which breached discrimination laws awarded five special educational needs contracts by Suffolk County Council

PUBLISHED: 19:06 17 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:55 18 February 2020

A breach of the Equalities Act by the exclusion of a child with special educational needs at Sybil Andrews Academy was admitted by the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: GREGG BROWN

A breach of the Equalities Act by the exclusion of a child with special educational needs at Sybil Andrews Academy was admitted by the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Education chiefs in Suffolk agreed a contract with an academy trust to run five special educational needs units – despite being aware that it had breached equality laws by excluding a dyslexic pupil.

Tim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIPTim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

The shock revelation emerged in a tribunal report from July last year in which the Unity Schools Partnership admitted it had discriminated against a special educational need pupil at its Sybil Andrews Academy school in Bury St Edmunds by excluding them.

It was deemed a breach of the Equalities Act by a first tier tribunal panel hearing.

READ MORE: Unity Schools Partnership unveils plan for former Holywells School site

But is has now emerged that Suffolk County Council was aware of the tribunal when it was assessing the bids for the first 10 new specialist units attached to mainstream schools, and still opted to award the contract to the trust to run half of those new units, more than twice as many as any other trust.

A spokesman said: "All the trusts and schools that have been commissioned to provide the new SEND specialist units for September 2020 have been subject to a formal competitive process which included a rigorous assessment of their suitability to provide a new SEND unit.

An artist's impression of how the Sir Bobby Robson School in Ipswich will look, which USP will be running. Picture: CONCERTUS DESIGN & PROPERTY CONSULTANTSAn artist's impression of how the Sir Bobby Robson School in Ipswich will look, which USP will be running. Picture: CONCERTUS DESIGN & PROPERTY CONSULTANTS

"Unity Schools Partnership demonstrated that they were a provider with strong commitment to pupils with SEND and the ability to provide an inclusive and appropriate education to these pupils.

"Suffolk County Council was aware of the breach of the Equalities Act admitted by Unity School Partnership when it arose and is satisfied that the trust has taken all necessary steps to change practice and fulfil the requirements of the tribunal that reviewed this case."

Former education cabinet member Gordon Jones, who switched to the finance portfolio in October last year, has a place on the board at USP.

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The county council last year announced a £45million plan to create more than 800 new SEND places, which includes three new special schools and 36 specialist units attached to mainstream schools.

The first 10 of those units were confirmed in December, with five those being USP schools - Burton End Primary in Haverhill, Houldsworth Valley Primary in Newmarket, Newmarket Academy, Clements Primary Academy and Castle Manor Primary Academy.

The trust, which will also run the new SEND school named after Sir Bobby Robson at the former Holywells School site in Ipswich, has defended its track record.

"The trust does not discuss details concerning any individual pupil," said trust chief executive Tim Coulson.

"But we can confirm that we made clear all the information about the tribunal to the trust board, Department for Education and Suffolk County Council - they are all aware of the concerns the parents had.

"The tribunal referred to matters in 2018 and earlier and all the requirements of the tribunal order have now been met."

He added: "The trust is pleased to have been given the go-ahead to extend specialist provision in a new special school - the Sir Bobby Robson School - and specialist provision in mainstream schools by both the Department for Education and Suffolk County Council.

"We held a successful consultation into our plans for the Sir Bobby Robson School late last year and we were delighted with the response - including an overwhelming majority of people who responded agreeing with our 'overarching vision' for the new school.

"We look forward to working with parents across these areas and communities on providing the additional provision that at the moment is lacking."

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