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Monday, 14 May 2018

Government accused of 'woeful complacency' with millions cut from services for deaf children

Written by Alison Kershaw

Millions of pounds in support for deaf children is being lost, leaving services at "breaking point", a charity has warned.

Around a third of councils are making cuts, according to the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS), which accused the Government of "woeful complacency".

Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi said the budget for pupils with special educational needs this year is £6 billion - the highest on record.

Town hall bosses said ministers must find additional funding to support high-needs children, warning if cash is not found, councils may not be able to meet their legal duty to these youngsters.

An analysis of data obtained by the NDCS through Freedom of Information requests, released at the start of Deaf Awareness Week, shows of the 122 authorities in England that provided figures, 45 (37%) are cutting specialist education support services for deaf and hearing impaired children this financial year (2018/19) compared to last year.

Overall, across these 45 authorities, around £4 million is being cut, the charity calculates, with each council losing around 10% from these services on average.

NDCS chief executive, Susan Daniels, said: "The Government urgently needs to step in and tackle this mounting funding crisis in deaf children's education.

"By not acting, this Government is putting the education of too many deaf children at risk, and letting their futures hang in the balance."

She said it is "crucial" that deaf children get the right support.

"Despite councils having a legal duty to support deaf children, we are seeing the vital support system that they rely on for their education torn apart," Ms Daniels said.

"Deaf children are falling even further behind at school, and the Government's response is nothing short of woeful complacency."

She added: "No one is in any doubt that this is a complex problem. We have rising numbers of children with special educational needs like deafness, but funding is not keeping pace with increasing demand.

"Ministers can talk until they are blue in the face about their reforms and record investment in the system, but as this data shows, that is a complete fantasy for deaf children who are facing huge cuts to their educational support."

Mr Zahawi insisted the government wants every child to have "the support they need to unlock their potential".

"The high needs budget for pupils with special educational needs is £6 billion this year - the highest on record and core school funding will rise to a record £43.5 billion by 2020 - a 50% real terms per pupil increase from 2000," he said.

"On top of this, last week we announced new contracts worth more than £25 million to help children with special educational needs and disabilities - including those who are deaf or have a hearing impairment - have access to excellent support to help guide them through the new system of SEN reforms."

Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said councils take their responsibilities to support all children with special educational needs and disabilities "extremely seriously".

"We have made it clear for some time now that there must be additional and on-going funding from the Government to enable us to support high-needs children and their families, otherwise councils may not be able to meet their statutory duties and these children could miss out on a mainstream education," he said.

"This is why we are calling for an urgent review of funding to meet the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities."

Mother criticises 'fragmented' services for deaf children

A mother has told how cuts to deaf children services have left her son without specialist support.

Emma Bishop said her family has been left to seek advice and guidance for themselves for Thomas (pictured), 11, after his teacher of the deaf was cut around two years ago.

The specialist worker would visit Thomas, who has hearing loss, once a term to assess his needs and then give advice and information to his school, family and doctors.

Ms Bishop, who lives near Walsall in the West Midlands, told the Press Association: "The teacher of the deaf was amazing, and it gave you a level of confidence because she would go and assess Thomas then she would ring me up, give me lots of feedback.

"You would feel confident when you went to see the consultant, it was a multi-agency approach to Thomas's support. It was coming from the teacher, to the teacher of the deaf, to the consultant to the audiologist.

"But that's all gone, it's very fragmented."

She said the family now have to track down information and guidance to help them deal with issues like choosing a secondary school, as they do not have one specific person to turn to for help.

"It's almost feels to me, because it is a hidden disability, that they are almost brushing it under the carpet," she said.

"Especially with people like Thomas that do have a level of hearing, it's almost as if they're ignoring his needs."

A Walsall Council spokesman said: "The council is not able to discuss individual cases.

"Funding has remained consistent for the past 18 months and has been used to support children who are deaf or hard of hearing at school.

"When assessing cases we adhere to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP) monitoring criteria and will amend provision of support appropriately."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Emma Bishop / PA Wire.