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Suffolk to get new alternative provision school, planned for Bury St Edmunds, to be run by SENDAT and delivering vocational training in partnership with West Suffolk College

A new alternative provision school for teenagers who are struggling in mainstream has been announced for Suffolk, as one of only 20 approved nationally by the Government.

SENDAT, a multi-academy trust in special education and specialist provision, has won approval to create ‘an outstanding and innovative’ alternative provision (AP) free school in the county for students aged 14-19, in partnership with Suffolk County Council (SCC) and West Suffolk College.

The new school is called ‘Empowering Futures’ and currently it is hoped that it will open in January 2026.

Lawrence Chapman, CEO of SENDAT. Picture: Mariam Ghaemi
Lawrence Chapman, CEO of SENDAT. Picture: Mariam Ghaemi

SuffolkNews can reveal that it is planned to be located in Bury St Edmunds and when full it will have 90 places.

Lawrence Chapman, CEO of SENDAT, said: “This is a marvellous outcome for Suffolk to have a new AP academy, which was one of only 20 approved nationally.

“It will support young people who are struggling in mainstream schools, who need a different type of curriculum to succeed and progress to college.”

A new alternative provision school will open in Suffolk. Picture: iStock
A new alternative provision school will open in Suffolk. Picture: iStock

SENDAT gained approval for the partnership project on Wednesday as part of the Chancellor’s budget statement.

A press release today said the Department for Education is funding the capital building costs and the council is providing a site for the new school, which will be within travel distance of students attending the majority of mainstream schools in Suffolk.

Ros Somerville, assistant director for inclusion at SCC, said: “It is fantastic to be working in partnership to develop this project which fits our strategic plan for Suffolk.

“The new academy will add much-needed additional capacity and a different way of learning for many students.”

In addition to maths, English and science, the new school will provide high-quality vocational training and meaningful qualifications which will encourage and motivate students who are currently not engaging and struggling with academic qualifications in their current schools to attend and succeed in their interests and future chosen careers.

SENDAT will work with West Suffolk College to deliver a joined-up all-round curriculum offer, supporting its students into further education, employment, supported internships, apprenticeships, and higher education.

Dr Nikos Savvas. Picture: Eastern Education Group
Dr Nikos Savvas. Picture: Eastern Education Group

There will be vocational workshop areas on the school site, delivered by vocational college specialist lecturers. The school will also work collaboratively with mainstream schools in Suffolk in order to offer day places in these vocational workshops.

There will be an emphasis on work-related experiences, work experience days and placements forging close links and future opportunities with local employers and the community, the press release said.

Dr Nikos Savvas, CEO of Eastern Education Group, and Colin Shaw, group sixth form principal at West Suffolk College, said: “‘At Eastern Education Group, we are delighted to hear this news. One of our priorities is to ensure that all students are given the same access to quality education and all have equal opportunities to thrive and excel in their education, regardless of the setting.

“Using exceptional vocational education to inspire young people will ensure nobody is left behind and we meet the knowledge, skills and behaviours demanded by employers.”

The press release said SENDAT had worked with SCC, its further education college partners and in consultation with the Suffolk Association of Secondary Headteachers and mainstream schools spread across Suffolk, who all agree that there is a need for a strong vocational curriculum offer for those young people who are struggling within mainstream schools with a traditional school curriculum.

SENDAT runs a number of schools across Suffolk and Norfolk, including Priory School, in Bury St Edmunds, Stone Lodge Academy, in Ipswich, Chalk Hill, in Sudbury, Sunrise Academy, in Lowestoft, and Duke of Lancaster, in Fakenham.