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Suffolk County Council given go-ahead to borrow £24.1m to create new specialist education places

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Plans to borrow millions of pounds to create new specialist education places for children in Suffolk have been given the green light by council leaders.

Now the first wave of new places is expected to be ready for September 2020, helping to ensure children 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 £45million plan in January, which was given the council’s backing.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (9068927)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (9068927)

Since then, finance chiefs have assessed whether the plans were viable, and on Tuesday were presented to the council’s cabinet for approval.

The cabinet unanimously backed the first phase of loans, which will see the council borrow £24.1m to establish the first tranche of places between September 2020 and 2021.

Gordon Jones, Conservative 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 £45m plan includes building new special schools in Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds, and creating 36 new 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 SEND places as quickly as possible.

“With demand for SEND places rapidly increasing, families cannot afford any of the usual Suffolk County 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 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 that is local to home, may become more of a reality and we look forward to supporting the future developments of Suffolk’s specialist education offer.”