A few weeks ago Salford Council issued a press release stating that "More children with special education needs will be helped in new proposals…" It added that "A Commission made up of five councillors and sector experts including the National Deaf Children's Society has been considering the best options for the future service…"
Now that the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has an inkling of Salford Council's `best options for the future service' it isn't impressed one bit. After a meeting with the Council yesterday, the Society's Director of Policy and Campaigns, Brian Gale, told the Salford Star…
"As we understand it, final decisions about the restructuring of local services have not been made yet, this is expected later in the month. NDCS met with the Council yesterday to raise our concerns that existing proposals might mean a reduction to the services deaf children receive. We have made clear to the council that this would be a step in the wrong direction."
Indeed, rather than increasing school support for hearing and visually impaired children, the Salford Star understands that there are proposals to cut that service by axing two specialist teachers and two specialist teaching assistants.
The Salford Council press release also stated that "Teaching time for the visually impaired will increase by half a post, and a mobility officer and sensory technician would be employed full time". But the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) says that under the Council's proposals visually impaired children "may not be able to achieve their full potential…
"We have grave concerns that blind and partially sighted pupils and their parents have not been fully involved in the consultation process" says Lindsay Armstrong, RNIB's Regional Campaigns Officer.
"From the latest staffing structure released by Salford Council, it is still very unclear what levels of in-class support children with sight loss will receive and we are concerned that there will be a real-terms reduction in this vital service" she adds "If Salford Council go ahead with the proposed changes, blind and partially sighted children may not be able to achieve their full potential which would be unfair and unnecessary."
At a Public Meeting against cuts for services to support children with disabilities a few weeks ago, parents and support staff told an audience that included two Labour councillors – Howard Balkind and Peter Wheeler – the harm that will be inflicted on the life chances of hearing and visually impaired children if the proposals are put in place...
"They are changing our kids' lives for the worse" is how one parent summed it up.
Through sign language a young man called Kevin spoke passionately of his own hardships going through the education system and subsequently trying to find work without specialist support. He feared that without that support hearing impaired people would be "redundant".
Parents argued that, without proper support "our children won't get the chance to go to university" while Sue Wray, Salford City UNISON's Equalities Officer said that "Salford Council has forgotten its `Every Child Matters' agenda".
Social workers from the Council's disability team added that there were three of their posts being axed across the city and told how it would negatively impact their ability to help children and families. Meanwhile, Council staff who work directly with children with disabilities explained that they were reluctant to talk in public of the affects of the proposed changes as they had been told to keep quiet – but they were worried for the children.
Labour Councillor Howard Balkind, who is hearing impaired and associated with Salford Deaf Children's Society, asked if they felt intimated by bosses - to which they replied "Yes". He immediately phoned Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart, with his concerns.
Balkind also promised that if the Council's proposals were wrong "I'll shout out…the education of children is more important than anything else."
In the happy clappy press release issued by Salford Council before it had actually announced the final proposals, John Merry, Assistant Mayor for Services for Children said… "We have a duty to help all children in Salford, no matter what their educational needs are. We know there are gaps in the current service we provide and want to rebalance this so that as many children as possible are helped in the way which is best for them and their parents."
Now families of those children and their support workers, backed by Salford City UNISON, are intent on launching a campaign if the proposals as they stand see the light of day…
"We are adamant that we don't want to see any reduction in services and will campaign for the best services possible for these children" says Ameen Hadi of Salford City UNISON "We believe that parents and children and national agencies will support us in that battle…"
The campaign against all the cuts in public services resumes tomorrow Saturday 9th February with a Public Meeting at 11am Swinton Legion – further details click here
See previous Salford Star article on horror cuts to services for children with disabilities – click here
Photos by Steven Speed