FAMILIES and charities have branded county council plans to reduce education support for thousands of children and young adults with disabilities ‘completely unacceptable’.
A Hampshire County Council consultation is proposing changes to its Specialist Teacher Advisory Service, which provides support in schools for children who have hearing or visual impairments, physical disabilities or speech, language and communication needs.
The changes could see fewer visits, reductions in trained staff, an increased workload for teachers and less continuity among the special teachers who still visit Hampshire schools.
Mum Emma Heaysman from Portchester was angered after receiving a letter about the plans, which will affect her son Lewis, 10, who is deaf.
She said: ‘I think it is awful because this support has really helped my son and many like him from a young age be able to get the most out of school.
‘His adviser has made sure his teachers, many of whom have not worked with a deaf child before, understand how they can help – ensuring they don’t turn round while speaking so he can lip read and he is sat at the front.’
Emma believes the council should be thinking about providing more services and ensuring there is continuity with advisers making visits.
She said: ‘Deafness should not affect someone’s learning ability but many don’t pass five GCSEs at A to C, so they are under-represented already. If anything there needs to be more help and certainly not less.
‘Lewis has known his adviser since he was four and I think its a bad idea to have different ones as kids may then not be able to open up about the problems they are having.’
The National Deaf Children’s Society has branded the proposals ‘completely unacceptable’.
Eva Jolly, its south east regional director, said: ‘Deaf children already face enough barriers in the classroom, the playground and their everyday lives. These proposals now risk causing more stress and uncertainty for more than a thousand deaf children and their parents.
She added: ‘Hampshire County Council must act now to quash these proposals and show families across the region that it will deliver for deaf children and their families. Every child deserves the same chance in life and deaf children are no exception.’
The service is funded by central government and has an annual budget of £3.1m.
But the council faced a funding shortfall of £9.4 million in 2017/18, with a forecast of an £8.6m shortfall in 2018/19.
It hopes the cuts to the services will save it £708,000 annually – with savings of £193,000 already made through changes to management and administration.
Fareham dad Dan White, who recently handed a 40,000-signature calling for the appointment of a minister for disabled children to 10 Downing Street, called the council’s proposals ‘completely unnecessary’.
He said: ‘This proves disabled children are perpetually easy targets and are at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to council cuts.’
A spokesperson said: ‘Our aim is to consider ways in which the service could operate more effectively to deliver the support needed for all children and young people with special needs and disabilities. The challenge is to do so within the limited resources available to us – which is why the feedback from the consultation is so important to us.’
They added: ‘We can assure parents and children if it is agreed that the proposals should be taken forward, appropriate support would continue to be provided for children who are deaf or whose hearing is impaired in any way.’
The council’s consultation closes at 11.59pm on March 9 and paper response forms are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Send responses to the same address.
There is also a drop-in session to ask questions on Tuesday, February 12 between 12.30pm and 2.30pm in the Hurstwood Room at the Havant Public Service Plaza.
To respond to the consultation online, visit tinyurl.com/y54aahvk
Responses can also be posted to The STAS Consultation Admin Support Officer (Inclusion Commissioning Team), SEN Administrative Support Team, SEN Service Children's Services, 1 st Floor Elizabeth II Court North, The Castle, Winchester, SO23 8UG.
Children could get ‘lost in the system’
FAMILIES at a weekend club for deaf children have united against the county council’s proposals to make big savings on its Specialist Teacher Advisory Service.
Users of the monthly Saturday Kids’ Zone for Deaf Children in Arundel Street, Portsmouth, fear youngsters’ grades, confidence and trust could be shattered if the £700,000 cuts pass.
Lucilla Rice’s 10-year-old son, James, is deaf and goes to Lyndhurst Junior School in Portsmouth – where he receives fortnightly visits from a specialist adviser to check his progress and his hearing equipment.
Repercussions if savings are made, his mum says, could be massive.
‘Children could get lost in the system because there isn't anyone to fight for them and ensure they get the right kind of support,’ the 40-year-old said.
‘I feel James won’t flourish as much and won’t have someone who understands his needs if the person who sees him is constantly changing.’
Lindsey Baker, 30, is the founder of the group, which meets at Portsmouth Deaf Centre and welcomes as many as 50 children from more than 20 families.
As previously reported, her 11-year-old son Riley cannot hear without wearing hearing aids in both ears. He receives adviser visits every week at his mainstream school.
She said: ‘If these cuts are approved children will lose confidence, they'll lose trust and they'll lose faith in the system. Their education will suffer really badly.’
Lisa Harrington-Jones, whose two sons Blake, nine and Mason, six are both deaf, added: ‘We’re very worried because if they cut back it means there could be longer waits, not as many children will be seen – and they won’t be seen as often.
‘The council is really stretched at the moment so I don't see how they could make cutbacks on what they've got to work with.’