A parent-led support group has responded to proposed changes to support services for some of the most vulnerable children in Brighton and Hove.
Mascot, which stands for Managing Autistic Spectrum Condition Online Together, is urging open communication and proper consultation to rebuild trust.
Mascot also called on Brighton and Hove City Council to ensure “children and families are fully and meaningfully involved” as services are “redesigned”.
The voluntary group has put together a position statement after the council proposed the redesign of its educational psychology (EP) and learning support services (LSS) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Mascot said: “Our document aims to give an account of the likely impact of the proposed changes on children, families and young people with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) in mainstream schools.
“Firstly, Mascot are pleased ‘nothing is yet decided’ meaning that there is an opportunity for parents, as well as the staff involved, to be part of the consultation process.
“The recent widespread public anxiety stemmed from a lack of co-production and confusion regarding what had been agreed and what still needs to be approved.
“It was the absence of open communication and consultation that caused the high level of shock and dismay in the community, not the proposals in themselves, and this highlights an underlying lack of trust between stakeholders.
“This is the fundamental issue that needs addressing.
“There is a clear need for improved communication in order to build trusting relationships with stakeholders.
“The welfare of children is everyone’s concern. We are all stakeholders in designing the services we need.
“Mascot supports the vision of one overarching and inclusive service with workers, schools and families working together to significantly improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND.
“We are aware that redesigns happen frequently but improvements are often marginal, if at all.
“The city has a real opportunity here, with these proposals, to promote a holistic approach to young people with SEND.
“However, it will only be successful if children and families are fully and meaningfully involved as equal participants and if the consultation with families, family support groups and the voluntary sector continues after the new structure is established.
“Going forward, the aspirational concept that children and families are to be ‘at the centre’ needs to be fully realised.
“Families, family support groups and the voluntary sector need to move from a valued but marginal ‘add on’ sector to a fully and integral working part of the SEN culture and how this is provided in Brighton and Hove: a partnership between the local authority, schools, families, family support groups and the voluntary sector so that we all anticipate needs rather than respond to failings.”
Mascot set out its concerns about the impact of the proposed changes on children and young people with an autistic spectrum condition.
It said: “Specific, but not exclusive to children and young people with ASC, is a need for change to be introduced gradually, thus avoiding stress caused by a disruption in routine.
“Therefore any transition should be carefully thought out to ensure the transition is seamless between the existing and the new structure.
“Some professionals have been working with our children and their schools for years and as a result have an understanding of the individual child and how their condition(s) affect them.
“Where staff changes are necessary, it is vital that the handover is managed both sensitively and carefully so that the new structure enables existing relationships to be built upon, not weakened.
“While we welcome the proposals to extend support to the home environment so that skills acquired can be transferred across settings, we are concerned how this would work in practice.
“Services for children with ASC are already stretched and therefore any extension to their remit in order to provide support at home would be expected to necessitate significantly more staff, not less.
“We are also concerned that our children will be seen by different staff in each setting, when what is required for our children is consistency.
“Many of our children access a range of services for the various conditions that co-exist with ASC.
“Some children do not neatly fit the label of a diagnosis but still have significant difficulties.
“We believe that for a ‘hub’ to provide what our children need, there should be a specialist on hand that has a good understanding of each condition.
“If professionals are working alongside each other, they should ensure that knowledge and best practice is shared.”
Mascot also set out some concerns about the support provided in mainstream schools, with worries about children’s GCSE results, also known as key stage 4.
The group said: “SEN attainment at key stage 4 in Brighton and Hove shows that too many children are being failed. Poor outcomes are no longer acceptable or excusable.
“Inclusion is not systemically understood or valued within all our schools. There needs to be a comprehensive change in how children with ASC are viewed so that they are seen as individuals and valued as such.
“We need the emotional, sensory and social needs of ASC children to be afforded the same level of importance as their potential academic ability.
“This is the perfect opportunity for the new service and new workforce to start putting into action the ‘scrutiny’ recommendations written into the new ASC strategy so that this can be achieved.
“Where the new proposals affect provision there needs to be clearer transparency to demonstrate how schools are providing this and how they are spending their funds with regard to children with SEND.
“This must include consistent monitoring and more effective evaluation of outcomes and standards.
“Schools must work in close conjunction with the local authority and families as well as with providers to best meet the needs of children.
“Most parents are well equipped to advise on how funding for their child is best spent, so where schools report to the LA on their provision it is vital to balance this against parental perceptions on how successful this provision has been.
“Clearer communication within schools needs to be established, with faster and more effective accountability.
“Ground floor teaching staff need to be able challenge upwards and governors to challenge down.
“Schools where good SEND practice exists and where good results are achieved should set the minimum benchmark.
“The message needs to be clear – a culture of zero tolerance to low standards of attainment. Schools where outcomes are poor will be under a heightened level of open and transparent scrutiny while good practice needs to be celebrated.
“Mascot expects there to be the implementation of a person-centred approach to SEND with in-built flexibility. We believe that this can be done cost-effectively.
“We welcome the opportunity to take part in the stakeholders group so that our input forms part of the ongoing consultation process, for it not to end there and that Mascot and all stakeholder groups have continued input and have a permanent role in this new integrated service to ensure it meets all of the promised proposals.”