We strive for a world-class special needs provision

Downs View School in Woodingdean is set to expand under the council's plans
Downs View School in Woodingdean is set to expand under the council's plans

Let’s be clear: we’re not cutting provision. It’s time to set the record straight.

One of the first visits I made as a newly elected councillor in May was to Downs View Special School. At the annual awards event celebrating the achievements of pupils and staff, it was awe-inspiring to witness the passion and commitment of all those involved.

Cllr Bewick said changes will improve special needs services

Cllr Bewick said changes will improve special needs services

It was a salutary reminder of why we live in a compassionate, civilised society, where progress is measured in terms of how we support the most vulnerable. A physical or learning disability should never be a barrier to achieving a person’s full potential.

At Brighton and Hove City Council we have taken this principle to heart in guiding our review of special educational needs provision. Looking at the local coverage of our proposals, however, generated by some vociferous anti-austerity campaigners, you would think the council was actually proposing to cut special educational needs provision in the city.

Let’s be clear: we’re not cutting provision. It’s time to set the record straight and ensure parents are informed by the facts. The decision by councillors this week to put proposals out to statutory consultation marks the beginning of a dialogue of how we transform and modernise this important public service.

Currently we spend in the region of £40 million on special educational needs and disability across the city. The planned savings of £1.5 million are not being driven by central government’s austerity cuts. They will be achieved over the next four years by transforming and modernising the way parents and children access support. At the moment there are six special schools and two pupil referral units, all provided in separate buildings with multiple layers of management.

The falling rolls in some of these schools means that in the last few years the council has had to spend nearly one million pounds buying empty places. This is wasted money not spent on teaching and learning. Our proposals to amalgamate some of the buildings will release resources to reinvest back in the provision. That investment includes extending the age range of support to parents from birth up to the age of 18, and 25 in some cases. It also includes offering integrated health, care and education support for children.

Despite the claims of campaigners, we actually plan to increase provision in terms of the number of places. Pupil-teacher ratios will not increase. Many parents have told us they want more control over the budgets. They want to access support through one front door, instead of being bounced around several different services, as is the case at present. Greater personalisation, integration, and consolidation of services are what these proposals are about.

Parents of deaf children or those on the autistic spectrum will continue to access the support of specialist advisers. It is simply untrue that we are planning to leave parents to fend for themselves. Of course, we will be asking some staff to work differently, including during the school holidays. And the integration of some teams will require fewer managers. Above all, we want to deliver a world-class service to children with special educational needs. It should be both inclusive and cost-effective.

Councillor Tom Bewick is lead member for children, young people and skills, on Brighton and Hove City Council.