Mum ‘terrified’ by announcement additional needs centres at Suffolk primary schools could be shut down and children forced into mainstream education
PUBLISHED: 15:35 29 January 2015 | UPDATED: 15:35 29 January 2015
Parents have expressed anger at proposals to shut eight school centres for pupils with additional needs.
More than 800 people have signed a petition calling for the “specialist support centres” to be saved – but Suffolk County Council, which runs them, says nothing has yet been decided.
The proposal for the centres, which cost £1.4million a year to run, comes at a time when the council is looking to save or “redeploy” almost £3.8m of funding for “high needs” students.
According to a council paper a total of £250,000 would be saved by cutting the centres, due to “under-occupancy” of children using them.
The centres, which are mostly run alongside mainstream schools, help children who have complex learning difficulties such as autism.
But a council spokesman said there would be an actual increase in funding for teaching children with additional needs.
He stressed a review into the centres was focusing on “improving services” and providing “more efficient” support for children.
He said: “Suffolk County Council is not reducing and is in fact increasing the level of investment made in the development and commissioning of inclusive provision.
“We aim to extend the range of targeted and specialist support made available to children and young people.
The centres facing closure
St Gregory Primary (Sudbury) - which has two centres
Sidegate Primary (Ipswich)
Gorseland Primary (Martlesham Heath)
Maidstone Infants (Felixstowe)
Causton Junior School (Felixstowe)
Castle Hill Infant School (Ipswich)
Castle Hill Junior School (Ipswich)
“The provision that is being proposed will require some changes to be made to some local services in order to reconfigure, adapt and/or redeploy provision to be able to be better positioned to meet the changing profile of needs of local children and young people with additional needs.”
But Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers, said: “It’s a surprise and it’s unwelcome. The county council claims it wants to raise standards and yet it’s now doing something else – cutting support for schools which provide specialist support.
“If you want to raise standards you make sure that you help all pupils and in particular these pupils.
“Suffolk County Council is not going about its education policy in the right way at all. I remain highly critical of Suffolk’s education policy.”
A paper from the council’s Schools Forum proposed to “decommission” the centres as the £1.4m could be “better redeployed” for new additional needs services.
Sonia Barker, Labour’s opposition spokeswoman for education and skills at the county council, branded the proposal a “disgrace”.
“It makes you wonder what other vulnerable groups will be targeted by this administration,” she said.
“Obviously we will be looking into what alternative provision is being offered for these pupils and their families.”
The proposal follows a council announcement on Tuesday that nine children’s centres would be axed in Suffolk. Their services are being moved to other venues.
Mum Joanna Hammond says she is “terrified” by the thought of her son being educated in a mainstream school.
Her son Riley, four, attends the specialist support centre based at Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham Heath. He has Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Development Delay, which means he learns in a different way to other children.
Mrs Hammond, from Falkenham, near Ipswich, said: “The support is really fantastic, they do sensory workshops and help them develop basic skills like cutting food and getting dressed properly and each week he gets three one-to-one sessions.
“It’s all done around the child and where they are ability-wise and what they can cope with.
“He would not be part of the group if he is in the mainstream classes. He is so far behind everyone in his age group it would be detrimental to his development.
“It has actually terrified me the thought of him going into mainstream schooling.