‘Shock’ closure of school’s ‘amazing’ speech and language unit

Elm Tree Primary School, in Lowestoft. PHOTO: Google Maps

Elm Tree Primary School, in Lowestoft. PHOTO: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

A district's only speech and language unit, supporting children as young as five, is to close at the end of the school year.

The service at Elm Tree Primary School, in Lowestoft, which supports around a dozen youngsters aged up to seven each year, will now close in July 2020, although parents have been left unsure why.

Hayley Hodger has been taking her five-year-old daughter May-Rose to the unit since September, and hailed their work in that time.

The 41-year-old, from Lowestoft, said: "Our daughter started there in September, just 12 weeks ago, and now they're saying it's closing in July.

"Children join with minimum speech and language and without this service they would fall behind.

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"They have been amazing. In the 12 weeks my daughter has been there, the improvement she has made is incredible.

"She is with children in a similar position, which has given her the self-confidence to try and speak in class. Before, her self-esteem was on the floor because she was taken out for one-to-one support and excluded from the group.

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"This closure is a massive issue."

Mrs Hodger said the closest speech and language units in Suffolk were now in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.

The school is part of the Evolution Academy Trust, with a spokesperson saying: "We always put the welfare of children first and have worked extremely hard to come to an agreement with the county council as it makes these difficult changes.

"The decision to make changes to the speech and language provision within Suffolk, moving to an outreach model, was made by the council in July 2019, following an 18 month review.

"We were advised that the current Speech and Language Units would be closed using a phased approach. The council commissioned options for a new SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Need) provision and Elm Tree Primary was approached to take this option forward.

"We very much appreciate that the council has to find huge savings but at the end of this process the model it produced for the new SLCN provision did not feel like it would work in the way we feel was right for students and their families.

"It was not for lack of trying and we will continue to help everyone involved create the best possible outcome for children."

However, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Council said the decision was made by the school's trust.

They said: "The Evolution Academy Trust have decided not to do this at Elm Tree Primary School, and while we are disappointed, we fully respect this decision.

"Our priority is to work with families and the team at Elm Tree School to ensure that each child is supported with the right offer going forward.

"With our partners across Suffolk, we have designed a new speech and language model, which greatly improves the provision we offer and significantly increases the number of children who can access support services. "This was widely consulted upon and developed in partnership with families.

"Part of this new pathway involves an outreach service where specialist teachers, alongside speech and language therapists, will support children and school staff within their local school. The outreach service will be available to children of all ages.

"In addition to outreach support, children with the highest level of need will be able to access new Reception and Key Stage 1 specialist units which are being established across Suffolk.

"Each child will be assessed to determine the appropriate offer for them. The three schools who currently have a speech and language unit were given the opportunity to provide one of these new units."

Mrs Hodger said parents would have been willing to help the unit if given the chance.

She said: "There was no consultation or meeting, we just had a phone call. There was nothing we could do.

"This is about the children's future.

"We've been told the school don't want to house it anymore and they couldn't find anywhere else, but the school say it's about funding.

"It was such a shock. If they told us the real reason, maybe we would understand. We would be happy to fundraise to get money if it is a funding issue, or try and find somewhere else to base it.

"Why fight to get our children a place there if they are going to take it away?"

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