Special educational needs service threatened with cuts

Staff at Brighton’s highly-regarded Pre-School Special Educational Needs Service (PreSENS) have been told that the whole service would be cut by over 50%. Simeon Elliott,NUT Representative for PreSENS staff team, has written this in a presonal capacity. Simeon writes passionately, making it clear what a tragedy such cuts would be for the staff, children and parents as well as explaining how in the long run such cuts will come at a cost to all of us.
Parents have already got a petition started – which can be signed here https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/don-t-cut-children-s-rights-to-a-specialist-teacher-in-brighton.
Why the PreSENS Team ‘s Work is so Important

This is a long post but I would ask you all to read it as I need to tell you what is happening. Thank you. In all my working life I have never worked in a team as good as the one in which I work: the off-site team of Brighton and Hove’s Pre-School Special Educational Needs Service. This team is greatly valued by all the parents and pre-school settings in the city. We make it possible for children with the most complex special needs and disabilities to be included in mainstream schools. We offer hope to parents and carers at the critical time when they are coming to terms with the severity of their children’s needs.
We are a team which is admired by neighbouring authorities for its excellence. Our staff are extremely skilled experts in typical early years development, early years provision, and delays and disorder of development. We have specialist knowledge of the range of disabling conditions which children can face, and how the effects of these can be ameliorated through specialist intervention. We work with paediatricians, health visitors and paediatric speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists; we have specialist knowledge and experience of how to work collaboratively with health and social services professionals.
Many of the children that we work with are at risk of developing long-term mental health issues if their needs are not met pre-school. Our highly specialist and experienced teachers and nursery nurses have years of experience of supporting pre-school settings to include children. With the continuous turn-around of unqualified staff in private, voluntary and independent settings, pre-school setting staff need continuous training to meet the needs of children with complex needs; without this support from our team, pre-school settings would simply not be able to include the children who are currently successfully included.
What is being proposed
My work team had a meeting today that started a ‘statutory consultation’ process. It is proposed that the off-site Pre-School Special Educational Needs Service, the largest part of the Pre-School SEN Service, will no longer exist; some staff will get jobs in a new generic learning support service, where there is no guarantee that there will be any specialist part of that service for pre-school children. And moreover it is proposed that approximately 50% of all the learning support services teachers will not have jobs in the new structure. Those who do get a job will be re-employed into generic posts where there is no guarantee that these posts will relate to the pre-school expertise that they have.
Even those who get these jobs they will not be on teaching contracts. They will probably have three year pay protection, and then a reduced salary. Those staff will have to work considerably longer hours and be required to work evenings and weekends if required. They be taken out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and put into a pension scheme with poorer benefits.
Across all the specialist special educational support services in Brighton and Hove the number of teachers will be approximately halved. I currently work three days a week – and in those three days I work, voluntarily, 30-36 hours a week, i.e. way over the contracted hours that I am supposed to work, and I am still barely able to meet the needs of the existing case load that I have. And there will be half the numbers of teachers working with pre-school children and settings if what is proposed comes to pass.
What will this mean for the children?
All of the research into effective provision for children with special educational needs clearly identifies that intervening at the earliest points in children’s developmental journeys as possible is the most efficacious and cost-effective way of supporting children’s needs; and yet it is proposed that we will no longer have a dedicated outreach service for pre-school children. Those teachers that are transferred into the new generic structure have no guarantee that they will be working in pre-school. I, as other pre-school teachers have done, have made commitments to the parents of vulnerable children that we will be working with them until their transition to school (mainstream or special), as we had no idea that the scale of the cuts would be this big and happen so soon; for some of these children that would mean that over two years of specialist intervention had been proposed. However, our dedicated service will be gone by April. How will I explain this to these parents? It will be incomprehensible to them. I only started working with some of my parents a few weeks ago; we were not warned of the size of these cuts and the timescale for them.
I have been up all night thinking about how I am going to explain this to the incredibly needy parents that I work with. They will feel dismayed and shocked when they find out. This may have serious mental health impacts for many of them. The neediest children in our city will have a paltry level of educational input from specialist pre-school teachers. I feel so very sorry for the parents of those needy children who were expecting me, or one of my colleagues, to be working with them for the next few years. Currently my caseload includes children with a range of conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Autistic Spectrum Condition, Downs’ Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Global Developmental Delay associated with significant prematurity, Attachment Disorders etc. I work with children in need of protection and those in foster care and with children who have been adopted, all who have additional needs.
A massive erosion of services for the most vulnerable children in our city
The service that will be provided in the place of having a dedicated service for pre-school children will only have half the number of staff with that expert knowledge, and will not be specifically dedicated to pre-school children. This is a massive erosion of services for the most vulnerable children in our city. Outcomes for children will decline, parents will be more stressed and less able to cope, and half of us will take voluntary severance, early retirement or will be made redundant. In the future it will cost the local authority far more to manage the effects, such as criminality, mental health difficulties and long term health difficulties, that are caused by not meeting children needs as early as possible.
These cuts are far worse than I predicted and I feel very angry; I am angry because children’s needs will not be met as well as they were; and to diminish the provision for the youngest and neediest of the city’s population is a tragedy. I have spent 30 years in education. Everything now is drastically worse than when I started. I despair for the young children we work with.
In my role as an NUT representative I will do all I can to protect the staff I represent; so that those with young children and big mortgages have a chance to survive. I am far from rich but I can withstand the loss of salary far more than many of my team members who have more dependents than I. I feel so sorry for them. I am not here going to comment on where blame for this lies. Today I just want to mourn the loss of something which is so important to the lives of so many parents, carers and children. I find it almost impossible to believe that this is happening”.
Simeon wanted us to add that the views and opinions expressed here are solely his own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of other people in his team, PRESENS or the wider team of the Learning Support Services.
Don’t forget to sign the petition linked above and watch out for further campigning on this issue and others soon to be announced

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