Council pushes forward plans to create more places for specialist education in Suffolk


The Cabinet will review recommendations put forward by a cross-party Policy Development Panel on Tuesday 29 January 2019.

Working together with parents/carers, education providers, partners and children to establish what support they need, Suffolk County Council wants to create more specialist education places in the county to give young people the best possible start in life with the right level of tailored support for their learning.

Between 300 to 400 places are needed for children with additional needs in Suffolk between now and 2020 and this figure is likely to continue to increase. The demand for specialist education places in Suffolk is rising rapidly due to the county’s population growth, advances in medicine and the increasing complexity of specialist needs.

Recommendations, which will be considered at Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 29 January, have been put forward by a cross-party Policy Development Panel (PDP) which was established to realise suitable specialist education places as promptly as possible.

The work of the Panel involved a comprehensive analysis and consultation, visiting a variety of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) settings from in and around the county, considering the views of service users and their families, partners and educations providers on the best way to grow Suffolk’s specialist education offer both in the short term and long term to meet future demand.

Some work has already taken place in the county to deal with the increase in demand for education places for children with additional needs. A new special school in Lowestoft opened in September 2017 and following Department for Education approval another special school will open in Ipswich in 2020. Several of the county’s existing special schools have expanded and a new campus with additional space for Riverwalk School in Bury St Edmunds opened in September 2018. Work has also taken place to establish a number of specialist small groups for specific local needs.  

However, more work is needed in this area of education and Suffolk is not alone in this. The challenge Suffolk is facing is reflected nationally, with an increasing number of children requiring specialist placements, often needing to access these provisions outside of their local community and peers.  

It is being recommended to Cabinet that:

  • Suffolk adopts a Specialist Education Pathway Framework that provides a clear and systematic approach to the future development of local specialist education provision and is made available to parents / carers to provide them with better information about the range of local education options.
  • A capital investment programme is undertaken for the development of a substantial number of new specialist education placements within Suffolk. The specialist provision would be for a range of different needs and involve the creation of specialist units attached to mainstream schools and new special schools.

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, Councillor Gordon Jones, said:

“We need to do more for Suffolk’s children and young people with additional needs.

“Suffolk County Council has a duty of care to provide a suitable education placement for every child of school age and for 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.”

Ed Garratt, Chief Officer of the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said:

“The CCGs will continue to prioritise our support for the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Strategy in Suffolk. As a key priority within the strategy, we recognise the importance of children and young people having access to suitable education settings, and this is a positive step forward.

“We will continue to work closely in partnership with our education colleagues to understand the impact of the proposals as we develop our commissioned health services.”

Jo Hammond, Co-Chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN), said:

“We know there isn't enough Specialist Education Placements in Suffolk and this has resulted in some children having to attend school a long way from home, some no longer attending school because the right placement just isn't available and on some occasions, children attending the wrong provision because it has been the 'best fit'.

“SPCN has continued to work closely with the Local Authority to ensure the views of parents/carers and their families continues to be at the centre of any future developments regarding the provision of SEND Services and Specialist Education Placements in Suffolk. 

“We are thankful that Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet has acknowledged this issue with the urgency it deserves. We remain hopeful that if approved, schools and educations settings will embrace the opportunity as we believe these recommendations could bring around the changes in Specialist Education that is so desperately needed by our children and young people in Suffolk.”

Full details of the committee paper for the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 29 January is available under the item 29-01-2019, The Cabinet.