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Suffolk County Council cabinet approves new speech and language education model

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Changes to speech and language education have been given the green light – but some fears still remain over admission criteria.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet approved the new model for specialist speech and language education at its Tuesday meeting, which will focus on earlier intervention.

The new system will mean more outreach workers can help youngsters in mainstream schools, diagnosing speech and language needs earlier and also extend the offering to more than 2,000 children.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (13951562)
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (13951562)

Parent campaigners had initially feared three existing specialist centres in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft – which can only cater for around 45 pupils – would close.

However the council later confirmed it would invite the three centres to effectively become specialist units attached to mainstream schools.

The shake-up will be funded by an additional £1million from clinical commissioning groups and cash borrowed as part of a £45m investment in special educational needs and disability (SEND) services.

Conservative councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council, said: “The new model is about being far more inclusive, early intervention and having an opportunity to have a much wider impact.

“Currently only 45 children can get a really good service. That will still be available under the new proposals, and will widen.

“Instead of having three centres giving that provision, it will be widened to 11 with a variety of complex needs.

“I think it will be vital for those families where we will be able to respond to more than 2,000 families rather than the 45. We will be able to diagnose earlier along with our health partners.”

Mr Jones said he hoped the final model alleviated parent concerns, adding: “We met with a number of parents who were most affected, we listened to them and we changed the initial proposals to take account of that.

“We also must recognise that children may have a variety of needs. Speech and language might be just one of those needs a child has, and I think it’s important we respond to that and address all the needs.”

Training will now be given to frontline staff to work in schools, with an eye to the new model starting to form in late 2019 or early 2020.

Youngsters will continue attending the three specialist speech and language units as normal for the 2019/20 academic year.

Suffolk Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “There is a lot to be commended in this report. Although we have very little in the way of SEND provision a lot of it is very, very good. The last thing we wanted to do is damage any of the very good services we have already got.

“A lot of the disquiet from parents was centred not around the outreach. Their concern was the removal of the speech and language hubs would have a detrimental impact.

“What we can see here is no guarantee at all that it’s only children with speech and language needs [who will be admitted to those units].

“This represents a step backwards – we are effectively removing our specialism in this area.”

Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group leader Penny Otton added: “We do support what’s being proposed because it’s absolutely obvious there has to be equality for every child.

“But I am concerned this could put huge pressure on primary school staff, so I hope there will be adequate support for them.”