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Cabinet gives backing to £45m special educational needs plan for Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 15:46 30 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 30 January 2019

Suffolk County Council cabinet backed the £45m SEND plan. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council cabinet backed the £45m SEND plan. Picture: ARCHANT

Plans to build three new special schools as part of a £45million programme of investment in Suffolk have been backed by councillors

Gordon Jones described the SEND plan as a Gordon Jones described the SEND plan as a "defining aspect" to the county's work with young people. Picture: SIMON PARKER

The new schools in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft will create 360 new places between them and be built at a cost of £33million.

An additional £9million will be spent on providing new specialist units in mainstream schools, creating 420 new places. A total of 828 new places are to be created.

The new schools in Ipswich and Lowestoft will be built from scratch, while the Bury site will utilise the old Riverwalk facility.

The remaining cash will be spent on the refurbishment of buildings.

The proposals, which were formally approved by Suffolk County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday, will now go before a special capital strategy group to approve borrowing the cash and, if backed, will return to cabinet later in the spring.

Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for education and skills, said: “I truly believe this is one of the most influential papers I have brought to cabinet in my time as cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills.

“Our response will be a defining aspect of our work for children and young people in Suffolk for years to come.”

Mr Jones confirmed there was “potential that some additional commitment for capital will be needed in the 2019/20 year” for the refurbishment of buildings.

Penny Otton said more short term measures were needed to support families needing support now. Picture: GREGG BROWNPenny Otton said more short term measures were needed to support families needing support now. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Mr Jones said he hoped the first new placements would be open for September 2020.

Penny Otton, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said: “I am obviously pleased with the recommendations to provide more seriously needed places in the county for children with special needs and disabilities, but I am very concerned that there is little new support for immediate help for families, parents and carers.

“It is particularly worrying that there is a reduction in the budget for educational psychologists and the early years help and specialist service.”

Jo Hammond, co-chair of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network which works with families, said: ““We very much welcome this news, particularly at a time where there seems to be no relent in the on-going challenges families with children and young people with SEND face, due to lack of resources.

Members of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, l-r, Anne Humphrys, Lucy Buckle, Sue Willgoss and Joanna Hammond, backed the plan. Picture: SUFFOLK PARENT CARER NETWORKMembers of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, l-r, Anne Humphrys, Lucy Buckle, Sue Willgoss and Joanna Hammond, backed the plan. Picture: SUFFOLK PARENT CARER NETWORK

“We are hopeful that this much needed investment will be fundamental in changing the lived experience of so many of our families and we will continue to be their voice during these future developments.”

The news came just a week after Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission carried out a visit of the council’s SEND services, following a poor rating two years ago.

Figures presented to cabinet at the end of last year revealed a huge increase in demand for SEND places by 18% and the need for 300-400 new specialist places in the next two years alone.

It prompted the creation of a cross-party panel to investigate ways of creating new places, which returned with proposals to develop a clearer framework for parents and the £45m plan for new places.

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