Worried about the cost of living? Need some support? Find out more here

Development of specialist units attached to mainstream schools

What is a specialist unit?

A specialist unit is a specialist education provision which is part of a mainstream school. Children could spend over 50% of their time in the unit but are an integral part of the school and the life of it.

Children will be on the roll of the school and will also be expected to participate fully in the life of the school at times that is suitable and appropriate to each individual child, such as accessing assemblies, after school clubs and trips. Where a child has a specific strength for a subject, they can participate fully alongside their peers in the main school. All children placed in the unit will have a personalised curriculum offer and would receive a high proportion of their classes in the specialist unit and will be taught in smaller groups averaging 8 to 12, possibly as low as 6 where children need extensive support.

Why are specialist units needed in Suffolk?

In September 2018 Suffolk County Council Cabinet identified a significant undersupply of local specialist education placements across Suffolk to meet both current and projected future increased demand.

Demand data from education, health and care sources indicated a projected rise of 18% in the number of children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) between 2018 and 2020, with a likely continuing increase in demand of a similar magnitude beyond this timeframe.

In response to this, Cabinet agreed to create over 800 specialist placements through a combination of special schools and specialist units as part of the SEND capital programme. This enabled Suffolk to create an offer that adhered to the principles that had been adopted by Cabinet for the development of specialist provision and enabled the council to meet its statutory obligations.

During the review of phase 1 of the capital programme, children attending the specialist units, parents/carers of children placed at the specialist unit and staff at the specialist unit were given the opportunity to share their views, read the testimonials

What specialist units are needed in Suffolk?

Following an analysis of phase 1 of the SEND capital programme, there is a demand for three additional specialist units across Suffolk.

Area of Suffolk

Key stage

Profile of need

Number of places


3 and 4

Cognition and learning



3 and 4

Cognition and learning




Cognition and learning


Please click here for a description of a cognition and learning unit.

To find out more about phase 1 of the SEND capital programme, please see previous information on phase 1 of developing specialist units section at the bottom of this page.

How to register your interest as a school

As a headteacher or Chief Executive Officer, you can register your interest for opening a specialist unit in your school by completing this Microsoft form.

Please note that expressions of interest should be submitted no later than Friday 30th September 2022.

View our Timeline for the development of specialist units

Useful Documents

Suitability process

Service Level Agreement for having a specialist unit in your school

Funding policy

High Needs Funding

How can I find out more?

Provider Services will be holding a virtual information session on Wednesday 21st September at 15:30 for school leaders which you would be very welcome and encouraged to attend. This session will offer a chance to learn more about the entailments of having a specialist unit attached to your school and the difference you would make. If you would like to register your interest to attend this virtual event, please email ProviderDevelopmentTeam@suffolk.gov.uk by Friday 16th September.

Click here to access the frequently asked questions document.

Specialist units in the news

'Two fantastic milestones' for academy as new SEND build opens

Bury St. Edmunds SEND unit at St Edmund's Catholic School is opened and blessed by Bishop.

Pupils 'thriving' at new SEND units in Stowupland and Mendlesham

Schools for first 10 new SEND units announced - here’s the list.

Trio of Haverhill schools to get special educational needs and disability units

Previous information on phase 1 of developing specialist units

Specialist education in Suffolk

Specialist units update from 2020

SEND capital programme update from February 2022


Save to Shortlist
Back to top