Council pushes forward with funding commitment to create more places for specialist education in Suffolk

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Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet will discuss recommendations on Tuesday 23 April 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.

Suffolk, like many other local authorities, faces a large demand for specialist education places due to population growth, advances in medicine and the increasing complexity of specialist educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Recommendations, which will be considered at Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 23 April, have been put forward by the cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, Councillor Gordon Jones for a financial investment of up to £45.6 million to support the development of a number of local specialist provisions for children and young people with SEND closer to home.

Providing more specialist education placements locally will mean that the county’s children and young people with additional needs will not have to spend unnecessary time away from their family and home travelling to a specialist provision outside of Suffolk. They will also have the opportunity to strengthen their roots within their local community, so they are able to build strong local networks as they move into adulthood.

The recommendations for the investment follows the work by a cross-party Policy Development Panel (PDP) which was established to realise the county’s local offer and identify 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 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.

A green light to move forward with the work of the PDP was given at the Cabinet’s Committee meeting back in January this year. Further work has now taken place by the Council’s Capital Strategy Group to provide an overview of the required level of investment for individual projects.

The £45.6 million investment will create over 800 new specialist education places in the county. This will include three brand new special schools and 36 specialist units attached to existing mainstream schools. A significant number of these specialist units will be opened by September 2020.

The proposal for new schools includes a provision on the former Riverwalk site in Bury St Edmunds for complex, social, emotional and mental health needs and two schools for those with complex communication and interaction needs, one in Ipswich and one in North Suffolk.

It is being recommended to Cabinet that:

  • Recommendation 1: To agree that Suffolk will adopt the Specialist Education Framework, proposed by the PDP, as a tool for planning future provision development and making it more straightforward for families to understand the specialist education offer available in Suffolk.
  • Recommendation 2a: To approve the proposal for the expansion of new specialist education placements in Suffolk between 2020 and 2025 to enable the needs of the vast majority of children with SEND to be met within the local area.
  • Recommendation 2b: To agree to support the proposed capital investment for years 1 and 2 of the SEND Capital Programme and to note that from year 3 onwards future phases will be brought to Cabinet for approval as part of the overall Capital Programme.
  • Recommendation 2c: To agree to commit to borrowing to support the SEND Capital Programme at a cost of £1.5 million per annum, once the programme is fully implemented.

The financial investment will support the interim work that has already taken place in the county to manage immediately the increase in demand for education places for children and young people with additional needs. A new special school in Lowestoft opened in September 2017 and a further special school for children with social and emotional needs has been approved to be opened in Ipswich by 2020. Several of the county’s existing special schools have increased their numbers and work has also taken place to establish a number of specialist small groups for specific local needs.

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.

“We must 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 it is vital we have the financial commitment to do this.”

Lisa Nobes, Chief Nursing Officer for the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said:

“This much needed investment will go a long way towards improving services for children and young people with SEND in Suffolk.

“Providing the right kind of school environment and high-quality educational support can change the lives of youngsters in a hugely positive way.

“All three Suffolk CCGs are fully behind the council’s plans to invest in new special schools and create additional placements for children and young people with SEND.”

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

“We are delighted that Suffolk County Councils Cabinet is committed to making this significant investment. The fact that this is the largest single investment into SEND Suffolk has ever seen we think, signifies the enormity of the issues we currently face around specialist education in our county. 

“This investment gives us confidence that our hopes of all of our children and young people with SEND being able to access good quality education provision that is local to home, may become more of a reality and we look forward to supporting the future developments of Suffolk’s specialist education offer.”

Jo Dedicoat, Headteacher at Dale Hall Community Primary School, said:

“The news that Suffolk is looking to make the financial commitment necessary to be able to offer our children the provision they so desperately need will be a life line for so many families and schools.

“There has been a significant rise in the need to provide specialist targeted provision and support for pupils and their families, in particular those experiencing complex mental health issues. 

“The proposal to not only increase the provision, but to use mainstream schools to facilitate a new type of inclusive specialist unit, will ensure that our pupils will have the chance to access a full curriculum alongside their peers. This means schools will finally be able to provide the nurture, counselling and therapeutic support that these children need and enable schools to provide the very best educational outcomes for their pupils.”

Full details of the committee paper for the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 23 April is available on Suffolk County Council’s website under the item 23-04-2019, The Cabinet.