Specialist support centre in Sudbury primary school saved by council

Pupils at St Gregory Primary School in Sudbury try some outdoor exercise. ANL-140724-143831001
Pupils at St Gregory Primary School in Sudbury try some outdoor exercise. ANL-140724-143831001

A specialist support centre at a school in Sudbury has been saved after councillors decided against closing them across the county.

The centres in St Gregory Primary School and six other mainstream primary schools offer tailored support for children with complex and moderate learning difficulties.

The decision for the centres to be reviewed was met with anger, with a petition being signed by more than 3,000 opponents and many showing their opposition during a public consultation.

But the school was left delighted after being told the centre was safe.

On its Twitter page it posted: “Great news! Suffolk CC has recognised the excellent work that our SSCs do and their future is now secure.

“Thank you so much to everyone from school and the local community who supported us during the consultation process - it meant a lot to us.”

According to a council paper, the authority had proposed to decommission the work of existing specialist support centres to redeploy the £1.4million of annual investment into additional or new services.

The planned changes were due to “under occupancy” of the service, costing the council up to £250,000 a year.

However in a letter, Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, wrote: “I am writing to share with you the high level findings from the recent options review of the future of Specialist Educational Provision in Suffolk.

“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).

“Instead we plan to work with SSCs and stakeholders to agree how we can build on the best aspects of the existing provision to offer this type of offer to more children.

“As you know, an options review was completed earlier this year seeking your views on Specialist Support Centres (SSCs), residential provision in moderate learning difficulty special schools, and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).

“I am very grateful to the many of you who took the time to contribute to the options review. There were over 300 responses which included a number of new and different suggestions which I have taken time to consider carefully, and which are now being used to shape future plans.

“The evidence gathered through the options review has demonstrated that SSCs are a valuable and important resource for children with special educational needs and are particularly relevant in providing an appropriate local offer for small groups of children with very specific 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, building on the very best practice that is currently being delivered; and the future development of similar new primary and secondary small group provision across Suffolk to meet local need, as and when suitable funding can be identified.”

Despite concerns from the council about under-occupancy, last year the unit at St Gregory Primary School was full, with staff describing it as a vital service.