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

Suffolk, like many other local authorities, faces a large increase in demand for placements for a variety of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Suffolk’s SEND Sufficiency Plan (2018) identified that the number of children and young people with SEND will increase by 18% between 2017 and 2020. This compares to an overall growth in the school age population in Suffolk of 4%.

Working together with parents/carers, education providers, partners and children, 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.

On Tuesday 23 April, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet agreed 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. 

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 followed the work by a cross-party Policy Development Panel (PDP) which was established to review the county’s local offer and identify suitable specialist education places. 

The work of the PDP involved a comprehensive analysis. They visited a variety of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities settings 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 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 in January this year. Further work has now been done 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 North Suffolk and one in Ipswich. Suffolk County Council learned on 3 April that it has been successful in its bid to the Department for Education for the new school in Ipswich, which will offer up to 60 places for children and young people aged between 7 and 16 years old, who have complex communication and interaction needs, including autism.

The school will be co-educational, catering for girls and boys and will offer day facilities only. At present, it is expected that the school will open in 2022. The next step for the council to undertake is securing a sponsor for the new free school.

Greater Ipswich is an area of the county that is expected to experience a particularly large increase in demand for SEND provision. Currently there is no specialist provision to meet this need within the Greater Ipswich Area. The nearest appropriate school is in Haverhill, over an hour’s travel from Ipswich – and this setting is already oversubscribed.

As well as providing up to 60 places for children and young people with Complex Communication and Interaction needs, there is an expectation that the new free school will provide a pool of professional expertise to support mainstream schools in developing their skills. This is particularly important when considering the management of any transition that a pupil may make back to a mainstream school setting.