Debate over future of Suffolk pupil referral units and special schools

The Ashley School, Lowestoft headteacher Sally Garrett.

The Ashley School, Lowestoft headteacher Sally Garrett. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Suffolk County Council is considering privatising 14 centres for excluded school pupils and closing two special schools' residential units as part of major proposals to transform education.

The wide-ranging vision includes the possibility of a private company or charity running pupil referral units (PRUs) – small schools for excluded pupils. Also included are proposals which could withdraw support for 52 overnight spaces at the special schools – The Priory School in Bury St Edmunds and The Ashley School in Lowestoft.

Education bosses are pushing for a whole raft of changes for excluded students and children with additional needs – with services costing £47million annually.

The council wants better 'value for money' from its PRUs, which cost thousands of pounds more per pupil than the national average.

And there are question marks over the future of the special schools' residential units as the council claims it needs to do more for students the county is 'struggling to provide for'.

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The local authority points out that more than 250 children who need extra help are taught out of the county.

The proposal to find a company to run the 14 PRUs, which are on sites worth more than £9million combined, is one of six options being considered. These also include increasing the number of student places – from 406 to 580 – without extra money, which would put the county in line with the national funding average. The council says the schools would then have greater capacity to intervene and take on extra students.

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A six-week consultation over the proposals started this week (Monday, January 4) after the council voted to acknowledge a report into the plans. Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for children's services and education and skills, said: 'Over the last few years we have looked to develop specialist education services that meet the needs of local children. We have engaged with parents and carers, specialist provision headteachers, partner agencies and local schools.

'The proposed consultation reflects the views expressed during our discussions up to this point. We need to address the provision for this type of support in Suffolk, to enable children to access services much closer to their home.'

Labour's opposition leader, Sandy Martin,

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