Four new schools for children with special needs set to open in region

PUBLISHED: 10:56 11 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:23 11 March 2019

The government has announced four new special schools will open in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to support children with complex needs. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The government has announced four new special schools will open in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to support children with complex needs. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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New schools for children with special educational needs or at risk of exclusion are set to open in East Anglia.

Education secretary Damian Hinds on a visit to City College Norwich in 2018. Photo: Neil DidsburyEducation secretary Damian Hinds on a visit to City College Norwich in 2018. Photo: Neil Didsbury

Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex will all get new schools under the government scheme to improve education for children who face “additional challenges” in mainstream education.

As part of the initiative 37 new special free schools and two alternative provision free schools will be opened around the country, providing 3,500 new school places.

The four special free schools in the East of England will provide more than 300 places – including 170 in Norfolk and 60 in Suffolk – for children with social, emotional and mental health needs, autism spectrum disorders and speech, language and communication needs.

The Department for Education said every region in the country will get a new school.

Applications will now open to find providers to run them, including community groups, teachers, charities, existing education providers and other organisations.

Between 2018 and 2021 central government is expected to invest £365m in educational support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

But education secretary Damian Hinds said the government recognised that some children “require more specialist support”.

“These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided for to help support every child to have a quality education.”

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said Norfolk and Suffolk were “high profile” examples of the pressure on budgets for children with special needs.

He said the 37 new special free schools were part of a £250m government investment in special educational needs through which 88 similar schools have already opened or are in the pipeline.

“We want mainstream schools to play their part but sometimes children need additional support which is why special schools have a role to play,” he said.

“Local authorities know their areas well and will be able to put the right provision in place.

“Funding is clearly an issue, and we are working with local government and our Treasury colleagues to make sure we understand the funding pressures.”

The special educational needs landscape in Norfolk

Norfolk County Council is already set to invest £120m in special needs education in the county, building three new schools over the next three years and making 170 more places available in specialist resource bases (SRBs) in mainstream schools.

Like many others, the authority has seen an increase in children with special educational needs in recent years and growing demand for education, health and care plans (EHCPs) which outline the support children with complex needs should get in school.

As school budgets are spread ever more thinly, some schools have made the tough decision to cut back on special educational needs services.

At the same time Ofsted is increasing its scrutiny of local authorities’ special educational needs provision.

Suffolk County Council has now been inspected twice, with the follow-up inspection revealing that not enough had been done to improve the service. Norfolk County Council is yet to be inspected.

What are schools doing already?

To help children with complex needs and prevent permanent exclusions, Eastern Multi-Academy Trust has already taken matters into its own hands with Forward Step, a specialist facility at King’s Lynn Academy.

Opened in September, the facility provides specialist tuition for around 20 students considered to be at risk of exclusion and has already welcomed a few back into the main school – the ultimate goal for pupils in Forward Step.

Duncan Ramsey, chief executive of Eastern Multi-Academy Trust, said: “It’s absolutely essential that all groups of pupils are valued equally and we must make sure resources are provided accordingly.

“As we are showing within Eastern Multi-Academy Trust with the new Forward Step facility at King’s Lynn Academy, it is imperative that the importance of bespoke provision for this vulnerable group of pupils is recognised and additional support for them prioritised.”

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