Education centres for Suffolk children with additional needs saved after closure threat

Gorseland Primary School, Ipswich, where one of the centres is based.

Gorseland Primary School, Ipswich, where one of the centres is based. - Credit: Archant

Eight education centres for children with additional needs in Suffolk threatened with closure have been saved following 15 months of uncertainty over their future.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) launched in January last year proposals to close the specialist support centres, which are based at mainstream schools and support around 100 children living with complex and moderate learning difficulties.

The council argued they were under-used and said the move would save £250,000 a year from the overall £1.4million centres’ budget.

Parents expressed their anger and more than 6,000 signed a petition calling for the proposals to be scrapped.

The authority granted a stay of execution for this academic year. A six-week consultation period involving the centres and parents began in March this year.

This month, Gordon Jones, SCC cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, wrote in a letter: “I can confirm that following the options review and the consideration of the proposals in the White Paper there will not be any plans in the foreseeable future to close existing Specialist Support Centres (SSCs).”

The centres are based at Sidegate Primary, Castle Hill Infant School and Castle Hill Junior School in Ipswich and Gorseland Primary in Martlesham Heath.

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There are also centres at Maidstone Infants and Causton Junior School in Felixstowe and two at St Gregory Primary in Sudbury.

Mr Jones added: “I have seen firsthand the dedication and hard work of staff, the commitment and support from parents and carers, and most importantly, the positive impact of this provision on children and young people.

“The evidence gathered through the options review has demonstrated that SSCs are a valuable and important resource for children with special educational needs.

“I saw some examples of excellent practice when visiting SSCs and believe there is a basis here from which to build a stronger offer.

“As a result, the council will commit to the further development of existing SSCs.”

Joanna Hammond, one of the parents behind the petition, described the news as a “huge relief”.

She said: “Suffolk County Council have now recognised how invaluable the provision of SSCs truly are and just how amazing and dedicated the staff are. They provide our vulnerable young ones with an outstanding education.

“It is just a shame that we all had to experience 15 months of uncertainty and thousands of pounds were wasted on consultant fees to try to fix something that was never broken.”