Suffolk County Council set to borrow £24m to fund specialist education places for children
Plans to borrow millions of pounds to create new specialist education places for children has been given the green light by council leaders.
The first wave of new places are expected to be ready for September 2020, helping to ensurechildren with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can be educated closer to home.
A cross party working group tasked with developing hundreds of new places for children with SEND came up with a £45 million plan in January, which was supported by Suffolk County Council.
Since then, finance chiefs have assessed whether the plans were viable and, on Tuesday, they were presented to the council for approval.
The cabinet unanimously backed the first phase of loans, which will see the council borrow £24.1 million to establish the first tranche of places between September 2020 and 2021.
Gordon Jones, pictured, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “This will be the largest expansion of special education in Suffolk in the last 50 years.
“This will mean, for the first time in many years, Suffolk will be able to offer the vast majority of pupils a school tailored to meet their needs closer to home.
“I believe this is the most important proposal I have brought to cabinet [since taking on the education portfolio].”
The £45 million plan includes building three new special schools and creating 36 specialist units attached to mainstream schools.
It is understood that it will reduce the need for the council to send pupils long distances – either in or out of the county – to meet their needs.
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “I’m pleased that finance has now been secured so that these plans, as developed by a cross-party panel, can be put into action.
“There is no doubting the positive impact these proposals could have for hundreds of children – however, the challenge now is to deliver these new places as quickly as possible.
“With demand for SEND places rapidly increasing, families cannot afford any of the usual council lethargy. Let’s hope that they seize this opportunity.”
The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said the plans were welcome, but added that more was still needed for those requiring immediate support.
Updates on the project are expected to be presented every three or four months.
Jo Hammond, of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, which works with families, said: “This investment gives us confidence that our hopes of all of our children and young people with SEND being able to access good quality education provision close to home may become more of a reality and we look forward to supporting the future developments of Suffolk’s specialist education offer.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter