The move by Hampshire County Council is expected to affect almost 2,000 deaf or visually impaired children.
The council’s decision to cut the amount of money it spends on SEND provision will mean a reduction in frontline staff and to support visits for deaf and visually impaired children in schools throughout the county.
The National Deaf Children’s Society and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have both slammed the move by the council. The NDCS is considering legal action to force the council to reverse its decision.
The charities are also calling on the education secretary Damian Hinds, who is the MP for East Hampshire, to 'stand up' for SEND education. They want him to challenge the council’s decision, as well as make the strongest case for SEND funding at the next Spending Review.
They say that the move is symptomatic of the sweeping cuts faced by children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), describing the situation as a ‘very bleak sign of the times.’
According to the charities, England’s 45,000 deaf children have been hit with £4 million of council cuts to support last year alone. In the past five years, specialist teachers for the deaf have been cut by 10 per cent, sending the average caseload for a teacher to 60 children, a rise of 36 per cent.
Martin Thacker, deputy director of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said, ‘This potentially unlawful move by Hampshire County Council is yet another sign of the very bleak times that children with special educational needs and disabilities are living in. Deaf children are being hit particularly hard, with their specialist teachers being cut and the futures they’ve worked so hard for now slipping even further from their grasp.
‘Damian Hinds knows that deaf education is at crisis point – and it’s within his power to salvage it. He has already pledged a ‘strong case’ for education funding in the upcoming Spending Review, but this must include an overwhelming case for some of the simple, cost-effective measures that can turn this crisis around for every deaf child.
Abigail Fitzgibbon, head of social change at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, added, ‘We are deeply concerned about the appalling cuts to support for children and young people with vision impairment in mainstream schools, which are happening more and more regularly.
‘The cuts we are seeing could prevent an entire generation of young people with vision impairment from entering adulthood with the qualifications and skills required for the workplace.’
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, said, 'We are pleased to confirm that we will continue to provide a Specialist Teacher Advisory Service. Following public consultation, we will be making a number of alterations to the way the service is delivered - from 1 September 2019. These will ensure that specialist support is appropriately targeted for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and that schools are well equipped to meet children’s needs.
'Overall, there will continue to be around 49 full time equivalent (FTE) members of staff operating across the whole of the service from a previous staffing complement of 51 FTE. There will be a small reduction in teachers, but we are adding to the team.'
The spokesperson added, 'The county council recognises the very specific educational needs of these vulnerable children and is committed to working closely with schools, and parents, to ensure their needs continue to be met.
'These adjustments also enable us to utilise Government funding in the most cost-effective way. We understand that while for some children this will mean support being delivered in a different way, which may be unsettling to start with, everything will be managed sensitively and tailored to the child’s individual needs.'
A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Our ambition for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same as for every other child and young person – to achieve well in school and college, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.
'That is why we have increased high needs funding for children and young people with the most complex SEND, from £5 billion in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year, including an additional £250 million we announced in December. Hampshire is receiving £115.2m in high needs funding this year, including their share of the additional £250m which amounted to £3m this year.
'We are well aware that local authorities and schools are facing challenges in managing their budgets in the context of increasing costs and rising levels of demand. And we are looking carefully at how much funding for education will be needed in future years, as we approach the next spending review.'