SEND Improvement Plan
I recently met with the children’s minister to discuss the new SEND improvement plan before it was published. One of the things I’ve been calling for has been for regular teachers to have a better working knowledge of all types of neurodiverse conditions.
I am pleased that the plan pledges to review teacher training to try and ensure this is a case. I will monitor this closely to make sure it makes the changes needed. It’s not just about extra specialists. All regular teachers need to have a better understanding of all conditions. Many young people with learning disabilities will be in mainstream settings and this is vital for them. I know what’s it’s like to be neurodiverse at a mainstream school and have teachers who don’t get you.
It is also key that parents aren’t always left battling to get their child diagnosed. Many end up going privately and paying. This needs to be addressed.
We need a national campaign to make clear all employers are fully aware of the benefits that come with hiring those who are neurodiverse. This isn’t about “virtue signalling” or simply acting in a moral way. They are amongst the most creative and unconventional thinkers out there!
The reality is its all taken too long to get to this point. The SEND review was commissioned many years ago. Even making allowances for the pandemic etc this plan should have been published a long time ago and we should not be at the point where what it’s calling for is being delivered on the ground.
I welcome the fact that Suffolk will be getting a new special school. Ipswich has had two new special schools over the past few years and another one in Suffolk is good news for many families no doubt. It will be a free school giving it extra freedoms and flexibility, something which is important when it comes to SEND provision. I was at the New Skill Centre school in southeast Ipswich recently, they’re similar to a free school and this has certainly been a benefit to them. I was really impressed by what I saw.
The Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho visited the Sir Bobby Robson not long ago and I was pleased that the teaching staff at the school and pupils were able to make their views clear about the different ways in which SEND provision can be improved.
There’re some sensible proposals in the plan. More emphasis on early years and early intervention which will be made easier by more early years specialists (5,000 are being funded). More education psychologists are good but there is a question about whether 400 is enough.
I continue to believe though that more needs to be done to ensure that regular teachers (non-specialists) have a firmer grounding in all different types of neurodiversity. Many young people with learning disabilities will be in mainstream schools and its important their needs and thinking processes are fully understood. I need more reassurances on this.
I would personally like to have seen more emphasis on diagnosis for various learning disabilities. I know there is a reluctance from some to label, but some people really are neurodiverse and have specific needs and its important they, their families, and their teachers know what they’re. A number of my constituents have really had to fight to get a diagnosis for their child and have often had to fund one privately. I need more reassurances on this by the Government.
New national standards will also make clear to parents, schools, local authorities, and other providers what support should be offered at every stage of a child’s journey across education, health and care.
The plan will improve parents’ and carers’ experiences of accessing support, with a digital-first process for obtaining Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) where they are needed.
The Government have upped the additional ‘high needs’ budget to over £10 billion, which is an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2019. However, we need more. You won’t always see me simply calling for more and more resources but SEND provision is an area more investment continues to be needed. It’s also the case that Suffolk SEND provision in particular is underfunded compared to other areas.
It’s important that improvements are made at both the local and national level to SEND provision, so I welcome much of what was announced. I acknowledge the new SEND special school places that have come to Ipswich over the past few years and all the specialist units in mainstream schools. There have been some improvements. But we have a long way to go locally and nationally in so many ways.
Something good that happens in 2019 was the change that means a school can’t be rated outstanding or good if SEND provision isn’t good also. This is perfectly logical and an incentive to prioritise SEND provision in mainstream schools.
I’m neurodiverse. I had a reading and writing age of an 8-year-old when I was 12. I couldn’t do my shoelaces until I was 14. I was lucky to get diagnosed fairly early and then eventually got the support I needed. It pains me this isn’t the case for many young neurodiverse children in Ipswich. I will always keep fighting for them and others nationally who have the same needs.
Visit to Chantry Academy – Careers fair
I recently had the opportunity to visit Chantry Academy for a careers event. This event was mainly targeted at year 7 to 9 pupils. I was able to talk to several pupils about their future and what they are planning to do for a career.
Around this age, it is crucial for children to start to think about their careers. My message to these pupils was with reference to choosing University’s, was that university is something that no one believes they can’t do, but something that they should not feel pressured to do. This certain path should be chosen because people believe it is right for them to do so.
Outside of university there are many other options which I spoke about, such as apprenticeships, or opportunities in the local economy. I was really impressed with the event and their attitude these pupils took.
After the event I spoke to a group of year 11’s about my job as an MP and what I do along with some of their views about the local area.
Bella Napoli fundraising for the earthquake in Turkey/Syria
It was really good to meet with Ayhan and others from Bella Napoli. They’ve been at the heart of fundraising efforts to support all those who have been the victims of the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey/Syria. Bella Napoli has been one of the main collection points for those wishing to make donations.
All in all, 5 large van worth of donations have been sent to Turkey. Temperatures in this part of Turkey are very cold at this time of the year so lots of blanks, electrical heaters and sleeping bags have been donated.
Ipswich has a large Turkish community and sadly a number of my constituents have relatives who have either lost their lives or had their lives turned upside down by this earthquake. It’s heart-warming to see how the local community have come together and been supported by those across the Town.
We also discussed the possibility of a new Turkish community organisation and a centre. The local Turkish community being a lot to the Town in so many different places ways.
Bella Napoli is a great set of restaurants. Good quality but affordable. Very friendly staff. I’ve been to all three many times. Queen Street, Woodbridge Road and Pownall Road!
Town Deal update
It was good news for Ipswich when the Government confirmed we would be getting £25 million in new investment, covering 11 projects across the Town. During the last General Election campaign, the Town Deal was dismissed by local Labour as an “election bribe” that “would never happen”. So, I guess they were more surprised than anyone when the money was confirmed by the Government.
However, the reality is that a long time has now passed, and the majority of the projects still haven’t been delivered on the ground. Some have been delivered and are very near fruition, such as the Old Post Office Building transition to the Botanist, the new Health and Social Care Academy, a new tech centre at Suffolk New College as well as a new Sustainable Construction Centre. It’s also been good to see the Local Shopping Parades fund going out to public consultation. Sadly though, most of the projects, including some of the most eye-catching ones, still haven’t had their business cases submitted and are quite a long way off from being delivered.
There are many different reasons for this, clearly not having a Town Deal Board Chair for a long period of time was part of this, but in my view, the principal reason for this slow progress has been the poor performance of the Labour led Borough Council.
Last week the local government Minister Dehenna Davidson had to take the step of sending a formal letter to the new Chief Executive of the Council requesting a formal meeting. Make no mistake, this was because of the slow, poor performance of the Labour led council.
This follows the Council effectively being stripped of the responsibility for developing the business cases with new external consultants being brought in to ensure the tight deadlines are met.
As much as Labour figures locally moan about a lack of Government investment. The reality here is that it’s the incompetence of the locally led Labour council that risks Ipswich missing out on millions of pounds of much needed investment.
A number of senior people who have been involved in several different Town Deals across the region are of the view that our own Town Deal has been one of the worst performing.
As the local MP I sit on the Town Deal Board but when it comes to the technical deal that sits behind key business cases, we’re in the hands of professional officers and the civil service. However, due to the extent of the failings by the Labour led Council both myself and my colleague Dan Poulter have become sucked into the detail in a way few other MPs have had to. Fortunately, with the new external consultants involved I can see a pathway to all outstanding issues being resolved and us meeting all relevant Government deadlines to secure the money.
I would like to see this as a cock-up not conspiracy. It would be depressing to think that key figures in the local Labour Party had put politics before what’s best for the Town. When some have suggested to me maybe there has been a deliberate tactic at play by key Labour figures to frustrate the delivery of the Town Deal, I have said this I’m confident this isn’t the case. Such behaviour would be unforgivable.
The reality is if the Town Deal is a success, we’re all winners. Everyone in the Town.
The simple truth though is that the local Labour led Borough Council need to do far better when it comes to bidding and managing large scale projects. They need to do what they need to do in order to ensure they’ve got the resources and the expertise they need to deliver. If they fail to learn the lessons from this episode there will only be one set of losers, the people of Ipswich.
St Nicholas street pedestrianisation and energy bills
It was a pleasure to visit businesses on St Nicholas Street last month. In addition to speaking about plans for pedestrianising the street, concerns were also raised with me about energy bills. I know that in addition to domestic users many local businesses, across the Town, have really struggled with energy prices. I also know that many have been frustrated when they see wholesale prices fall but they themselves aren’t yet feeling the benefit of this.
It will feed through in time, but it is vital this happens as soon as possible. Recently I spoke in the chamber and I was pleased to hear that the Secretary of State shares my views and is working to deliver the outcome we all want.
Suffolk Chamber of Commerce
Northgate Sports Centre
Great meeting today with members of Ipswich Jaffa, Orwell Panthers, Ipswich Harriers, and Ipswich athletics club at Northgate Sports Centre, following the news that Suffolk County Council has secured an operator to keep it open for at least the next few years. The next step is to make sure its future is secured long-term, and I’ll be working hard to help make sure that happens.
I wrote to the County Council last week urging them to find a way to keep it open after many of my constituents contacted me worried about the uncertainty around its future. Northgate is used massive numbers of people, including local sports clubs like the Ipswich Harriers, Orwell Panthers, and Ipswich Jaffa running club, as well as judo, bowls clubs, and many others.
It’s owned by the County Council, but Ipswich Borough Council has run the centre for the last 25 years. They decided not to renew their agreement this year, and poor communication from the Council created a lot of uncertainty about its future. Fortunately, I was pleased to see the County Council step in alongside Vivify, which has extensive experience operating over 500 sports facilities across the country, to operate the centre from April for at least the next two years.
There’s still uncertainty about what comes after that, though, and I’ll be working closely with the Council and local clubs to try to find a more long-term solution and to find funding for necessary upgrades, especially for the running track. I’m really keen to make sure Northgate remains open for my constituents for many years to come.
UK Education for Change
any occasions where I’ll be critical of the way UK aid is spent and where it’s sent. However, UK Education for Change which I saw in Bangladesh last month are doing some great work.
Large numbers of Bangladeshi girls are forced into child labour and are denied basic education. UK Education for Change works to change this. Quite a touching moment communicating with some of the girls and their parents via an interpreter about how their lives have been changed for the better.
Bangladesh is a fast developing country with increasing influence and of course a Commonwealth country with which we have strong ties.
There is a need for an aid budget but it needs to work in accordance with British interests and should also ideally be linked to increasing trade and Investment. Clearly morally it’s important the aid goes to where’s its really needed. Not to countries that don’t need it and which aren’t allies with which we have close links!
Broomhill Lido project
Pleased about this response from the National Lottery Heritage Fund about Broomhill Lido. The £3.4 million they committed to the Broomhill Lido project is still in place despite the Levelling Up Fund setback.
Meetings will be taking place soon regarding other funding avenues to bridge the shortfall. I will continue to provide updates. We’re not giving up.
New Skills Centre
Visited the New Skill Centre today to see their SEN school and meet with headteacher Mark Winston. I visited their centre for adults the other week, and it was great to hear about all the work they do for young people as well at their school. When I visited, they were having a “Paws for Thought” day to raise money for the Blue Cross charity.
The centre only opened in September 2019, and their building, a former church, originally had no classrooms. They’re off to a great start. Since opening, they’ve grown enormously and have already got a good all round Ofsted rating.
The NSC supports students aged 11-19 with complex needs like autism, some of whom have been out of school for many years. They help many students who have suffered trauma causing social issues, not just those with SEND. Post-16 students do placements and often help teach younger students.
NSC has classes of about 3-4 students in a nurturing environment, offering a full GCSE curriculum. Within a short space of time, their students make progress in interpersonal skills and confidence. 95% of students’ places are commissioned by local authority, and they’re very strict on having only students suitable to the environment. They’re independent but subscribe to the funding structure for SEN pupils, giving them more freedom to manage the school and funding.
During my visit, I met James, a post-16 student who has progressed hugely and is now going for a work placement. After two years here, he’s off to Suffolk New College to study business. It was great to learn about how much progress he’s made and hear about his future plans.
I also got to see the design and technology workshops. They have a 3-D printer and CAD software, and I saw some of the impressive projects the students have worked on.
The school also works closely with parents, gives confidence and breaks down barriers. I met Emma Mirams, the assistant head who is also in charge of mental health and pastoral care, and learned about the kind of extra support they offer.
The school is off to a great start, and I look forward to seeing them continue to grow and support more young people.