Teachers are to strike in Tower Hamlets next week over a plan to cut up to £650,000 from support provided to Special Educational Needs and Disability children.
Tower Hamlets Council’s decision to restructure the current Support for Learning Services to a Learning Advisory Service caused controversy after it was revealed the new program will become a stand-alone service that focuses on providing guidance and advice to mainstream schools.
Local teachers belonging to the National Education Union plan to strike on December 9 show solidarity with special needs teachers and SEND children. A petition has also been started.,
The budget cut will see more than 13 of the current 28 posts removed from the SLS. Visually impaired and deaf and partial hearing teams will be reduced by more than half, whereas all specific learning difficulties and language and support teams will be completely replaced by just two teachers.
The SLS was established in the mid-1990s to improve inclusion and outcomes for children with special needs. It has done pioneering work and is highly regarded locally and nationally, playing a role in helping Tower Hamlets schools to gain ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ Ofsted ratings.
Alex Kenny, district secretary for the NEU’s in then borough, told a public meeting: “It would be a bad cut to make at any time, but in the middle of a pandemic which we know has affected some of the most vulnerable children in our school worse than anybody else is particularly bad time to be making that cut.”
As of now, SLS teams consists of specialist teachers who work with special educational needs coordinators, teachers and teaching assistants. If approved, cuts will place extra pressure on teachers and support staff in schools, who will be responsible for meeting the needs of SEND pupils despite not having specialist assessments, training and expertise.
Candace Reading, the founder of Tower Hamlets Mums told Eastlondonlines: “The SLS provides a vital service for children with additional needs in Tower Hamlets. My own son has benefited from the support of the woman who looks after children with physical disabilities who require assistance with equipment and adaptations.”
“I don’t know how the council can say they will make roles like hers as advisory only and take people with such experience and dedication away from case work… It’s a really bad move with potentially devastating consequences for the children and their families.”
Tower Hamlets currently has over 8,000 children with SEND throughout more than 100 schools in the borough. However, this is considered to be underreported as Tower Hamlets has recently seen an increase in students with autism.
Iqbal Hasan, 20, a former SEND student of Tower Hamlets with severe hearing loss said: “I have received tactic support from SLS, ensuring that I had the right support with language and communication and equipment that worked well for me.”
“It is unimaginable to think in the future a deaf child like me at school could be without a specialist teacher of the deaf that’ll attend the school, assess their needs, train, and advise the staff to support the child.”
Although the proposal has been heavily criticised, Tower Hamlets council have said the cuts and restructuring of the program will support schools to become more independent and confident in meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND, have staff available during the school holiday period to work with partner agencies, and will help to provide better services for SEND children and young people.
The council are holding consultations until January with Tower Hamlets residents to give feedback on the change of services and cuts before finalised. Residents are encouraged to complete this survey to have their opinions heard.