Suffolk’s education chiefs accused of failing children with special needs

Waveney councillor Sonia Barker

Waveney councillor Sonia Barker - Credit: Archant

Suffolk's education chiefs have been accused of failing children with special needs after it emerged some were being sent to private institutions hundreds of miles away.

Publicly available financial information shows Suffolk County Council spent nearly £1.9million in September on educating and caring for children at specialist providers.

From private boarding schools to charitable organisations, the providers all offer specialist education or healthcare to children with needs including, mental health and behavioural problems, and disabilities.

While many are local organisations, tens of thousands of pounds were spent that month on sending children to independent boarding schools as far away as Leicestershire or Lincolnshire as well as a charity-run school in Berkshire. The council also spent nearly £13,000 sending pupils with 'moderate learning difficulties' to a private school in the west of the county.

The payments were made by the Children's and Young People directorate, which is heading for a £3m overspend this financial year according to cabinet reports. The report attributed the overspend to the 'continuing pressure on those children who have special education needs'.

'Many of the external providers are at capacity, and so placements need to be sourced from providers further afield, or at higher cost in order to meet the needs of the child,' it added.

Although the report said work is underway to reduce the need for out of county provision, Sonia Barker, Labour's education spokesman at the council, claims it is too little.

Most Read

'For years, the council has taken a short-term and mismanaged approach to special education needs and other issues of children with special needs,' she said. 'Now we are beginning to see the inevitable outcome of their lack of foresight. That the county's external providers are at capacity, forcing a knee-jerk reliance on hugely expensive out of county provision – ironically as a consequence of the council's attempts at cost cutting – demonstrates a lack of care, a lack of planning and a lack of good financial judgement. They have successfully saved pennies on services that are now costing the taxpayer pounds, and it is our children who are suffering.'

A spokesman for the council said it was sometimes necessary to use outside providers when suitable provision could not be found within Suffolk. 'Wherever possible, we place children in local provision or close to Suffolk borders,' the spokesman added. The council said it was increasing provision to meet demand, including the creation of a new special school for pupils in Carlton Colville in 2017. A special school in Ipswich could be approved soon.