More special educational needs provision needed across Suffolk, says Ipswich MP

PUBLISHED: 10:26 20 November 2020 | UPDATED: 11:20 20 November 2020

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PAUL GEATER


Last Friday I visited the new Sir Bobby Robson school building off Lindbergh Road - a new special school for those with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs (SEMH). Over the summer I was made an associate governor at the school and I attended the second governors’ meeting this week.

The new Sir Bobby Robson School building is soon due to open in Ipswich. Picture: GOODERHAM PRThe new Sir Bobby Robson School building is soon due to open in Ipswich. Picture: GOODERHAM PR

The school kicked off this September. They are temporarily based at the Murrayfield Centre with the hope that they will get a couple of weeks in their new building before the Christmas holidays.

I’d heard very good things about the new building and it was great to be able to go and see it all for the first time with the school’s head, Adam Dabin. The best thing about the building is that it has been designed specifically with the needs of its future pupils in mind.

The classrooms are spacious with a large sports hall, decent grounds and outdoor sports facilities. In addition to this there are several pastoral support and therapeutic rooms. In his role as head, Adam has been able to feed directly into the construction of the building he will be working in, to ensure it fully meets the needs of the school’s pupils.

Adam and his team have a very challenging job and many of the young adults they work with have missed significant chunks of school before starting at the Sir Bobby Robson school this September.

I’ve been very pleased to hear, both during the governors’ meetings and my visit, that they feel that they’ve made a really positive start and are already making a difference to the pupils.

What’s so pleasing is that this is the case even though, like every other school, they are operating in the middle of a global pandemic and are only seeing each pupil for a couple of hours each day. It’s exciting to think about what could be achieved when they move into their own purpose-built building and get far more time together as a team. The plan is that all pupils will be full time in the new year.

As it stands, the Sir Bobby Robson School has 30 pupils covering years seven, eight, nine and 10 and there is a secondary wing to the new building. The idea next academic year is to additionally fill the Primary wing with 30 primary school aged pupils with SEMH needs.

I welcome the fact that currently all of the pupils are from Ipswich. We must continue to ensure that the school is a resource for the people of Ipswich and Suffolk.

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Adam has assembled a first class team of dedicated professionals who are passionate about what they do and I’m confident that the tailored support they are providing could lead to the lives of the young adults they work with being turned around for the better.

The sad reality is, that however good a job they do at the Sir Bobby Robson school, there are many more hundreds of young adults and kids within the town who could do with such specialist support but aren’t getting it. The new special school places and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) provision provided by the county council are very welcome but we are still a long way away from the goal of ensuring that all SEND pupils are able to get the tailored support they need to achieve their true potential.

Next September Ipswich will be welcoming another new special school on Woodbridge Road that will offer places to pupils with speech and language difficulties but we should not lose sight of the need to provide first class support for SEND pupils who remain within mainstream schools.

I realise that over the past decade not enough funding has gone into SEND. There are encouraging signs that this is beginning to change but I still think that some people don’t really get why the need to further increase funding is the common-sense logical thing to do.

Not only is it morally the right thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do in terms of the British taxpayer and it is very short-sighted for anyone to believe otherwise.

On the Education Select Committee we are about to launch an inquiry into prison education and as a member of the committee I’ve been very keen to ensure that there is a SEND angle to the inquiry. The evidence is there for all to see that young people and adults with SEND are disproportionately represented within our prisons and young offenders’ facilities.

More often than not their needs have been undiagnosed and they’ve been failed by the system.

Get this right, provide first class well-funded SEND provision and we can provide the platform for many unconventional and creative thinkers to live successful lives and make enormous contributions to society. Get this wrong and fail to provide the tailored support they need and sadly not only will their dreams never be realised and their potential wasted, but more often than not it will be the taxpayer who will have to pay for this failure.

During my maiden speech I spoke about my own learning disabilities and that I had a passion to fight for better SEND provision up and down the country and this has not changed. Despite other major issues dropping into the in-tray such as Covid-19, I will never lose sight of this mission.

I continue to work on the Education Select Committee on SEND issues. Very soon the Parliamentary Group on Dyspraxia, of which I’m co-chair, will be publishing its first report on dyspraxia in society and through my work as an associate governor at the Sir Bobby Robson School I’m looking to make a real difference locally as well.

When it comes to the educational provision for those with SEND, the stakes could not be higher, we cannot afford to keep getting it wrong.

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