Brighton and Hove City Council says it has no plans to reduce special educational school places or services for autistic children in response to a huge campaign against proposed cuts to its SEN team.
More than 8,000 people have now signed a petition urging the council not to cut children’s rights to a specialist teacher since it was launched last week.
But yesterday, the council said it was extending a consultation on its plan, saying it also wanted to set “misunderstandings” straight.
It said: “Nothing is yet decided – this is a consultation with staff and we’re listening carefully to all feedback.
“We have no plans to reduce our special educational school places nor services supporting autistic children across the city. Any claims to the contrary are speculative and untrue.
“The proposed savings are around 10% of the overall budget for the current SEN support services and are ‘ring-fenced’ to children with high needs and re-invested in other stretched services for them. There are no financial savings to the council’s general budget in these proposals.
“However, we’re aware of the concerns so we have agreed to two changes early in the consultation process: to extend the staff consultation period until January 2016 and to revise some of the SEN specialist adviser posts for make clear the specialist focus on autistic spectrum condition and hearing and visual impairment.
“We acknowledge that aspects of these proposals may be unsettling and can create high levels of anxiety. The changes proposed will result in some staff working in a very different way to support you.
“However, we believe that the result will be a service to children and families which is more flexible, balanced, efficient, sharply focussed on addressing the greatest level of need and available to you across the year.”
The plans, which would amount to a 10% cut in the department’s budget, are to reorganise the special educational needs teams into one integrated service, and extend the service to families and across school holidays, and increasing the age range from 16 to 18.
Advisers would be expected to work across the full range of specialist needs, but the council says it will amend the proposed new job descriptions to make it clear specialist skills and knowledge will be retained, which has proven of particular concern for autism and visual and hearing impairment.
The new team would have 55 staff compared to 58 at present, and the same amount of specialist advisers. The city’s schools will continue to get their delegated SEN budgets.