HUNDREDS of children across Newport with severe learning needs face having a range of vital school services cut by the city council to save money.

Last year, there were 549 children aged from 0 to 19-years-old in Newport who received highly specialised help in special needs and mainstream schools.

For years, those services have been delivered by the Gwent-wide Sensory & Communication Support Service (SenCom) – that all five local authorities pay into.

SenCom, which is run out of Torfaen council, supports children with a wide range of hearing, visual and language needs.

This includes children in mainstream schools with relatively straightforward needs such as language support.

But children who are autistic, blind, deaf and live with extreme disabilities and complicated learning needs also rely on SenCom services.

With Newport City Council's decision to cut this service and set up their own team by April 2019, a move they expect will save money, concerns are now growing that children in the city who rely on SenCom could fall through the cracks.

One of those is nine-year-old Brogan Battersby, from Beechwood in Newport.

As well as being completely blind, Brogan Battersby suffers from autism, epilepsy and a joint instability syndrome, that means his joints regularly dislocate.

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He’s a pupil at Maes Ebbw Primary, a special needs school in Newport, where around 25 per cent of the children get support from SenCom.

Brogan Battersby relies on SenCom funding

For Brogan, explained his grandmother and main care-giver Dawn Battersby, Newport council's decision to leave SenCom could set him back years, and even cause him to self-harm.

“Brogan just won’t be able to deal with the changes they are proposing, that’s the bottom line,” explained Ms Battersby.

“It will set him back massively, and is almost guaranteed to trigger his self-harming.

“The SenCom team play such a vital role in his life. He’s worked with the same people since he was three-months-old.

“Any change for him is just bad news.”

Brogan, pictured with his grandmother Dawn Battersby

Ms Battersby understands that the planned Newport team will try to tempt former SenCom staff to reapply for their roles within Newport City Council, although no recruitment has yet taken place with just five months remaining until they pull out.

“If they’re hoping to re-hire the same staff then why are they changing anything?” she asked.

“It just doesn’t makes sense. If something isn’t broken then why try to fix it, other than to save money, of course.

Dawn says the SenCom team are vital to Brogan's development

“And how are they going to tempt staff to join them? Brogan’s mobility teacher is the only one of her kind throughout Gwent, and she works in all five local authorities.

“Just think of the trust and relationships she’s built up with parents and children all over Gwent. Is she really going to give that up to work just for Newport council in a brand new team?

“It’s children like Brogan who are going to bear the brunt of this, and they can’t stand up for themselves.”

Brogan enjoying music therapy lessons

Ms Battersby also says the decision was taken without any input from SenCom teachers, parents or head teachers.

Letters from SenCom and Newport City Council have been sent to affected parents, explaining the change.

After receiving hers, Ms Battersby wrote an email to Newport City Council on October 19 demanding to know their reasons for making the changes, but has yet to receive a reply.

Dawn is furious with the proposed changes

“I’ve asked them to look at Brogan’s file. Just a cursory glance will tell them the impact this is going to have on him, and how far it will set him back.

“I’m absolutely furious that they’re doing this. How are they able to make the decision without any input from parents, schools or medical professionals?”

Cllr David Yeowell, Torfaen’s head of education and lifelong learning reassured service users, staff and partners that there will be no change in service delivery between now and April.

He added no “significant changes” were likely after April 2019.

But while talk of changes in the remaining four local authorities post- April is being played down, reorganisation is inevitable after Newport Council stops contributing its funding.

According to figures seen by the South Wales Argus, Newport contribute £651,025 of the service’s net budget of £2,307,479 – a 28 per cent contribution.

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Only Caerphilly County Borough contribute more, with a total of 32 per cent or £730,031.

In the last five years, SenCom has redistributed £828,444 of underspend to the five local authorities in Gwent, and the service is committed to a 2 per cent efficiency saving for all authorities over the next three years.

Chief education officer for Torfaen council, Dermot McChrystal, told the South Wales Argus that discussions about remodelling the service for just four local authorities will begin later this term.

“At this time we do not expect to see the new service being significantly different,” he added.

But Ms Battersby isn’t convinced, and says she is determined to fight Newport council on its decision for as long as she can.

Brogan Battersby

“They [Newport council] just don’t seem to realise the scale of what they’re taking on. As well as recruitment, they will have to read the files and learn the individual needs of hundreds of children all across Newport, and match services to those needs.

“All in five months – it’s an immense undertaking.”

The South Wales Argus asked Newport City Council the following questions:

- How much money is Newport City Council expecting to save by leaving SenCom?

- How many children currently use SenCom services in Newport?

- Were teachers and medical professionals consulted before the decision was taken?

- Are the council confident they can attract teachers with appropriate specialist qualifications to replace the lost SenCom teachers?

- How much will it cost the council to set up the new service by April, 2019?

A spokesman for Newport City Council confirmed the authority was developing a specialist service to support pupils with hearing impairments, visual impairments and communication needs.

Brogan, who also suffers from autism, has spent nine years with the same teachers

“This support is currently delivered by a regional service, but the plan is to introduce a tailored Newport service from April 2019,” they added.

“The young people and their families will not experience any break or reduction in the support they receive and Newport schools will also benefit from more local support.

“Although Newport City Council fully appreciates the benefits of partnership working and in some cases the financial advantages it can provide, in this case we are identifying the specific needs of young people in Newport and ensuring that they are best met by the service.

“We do anticipate some efficiencies, but we will also be investing in the city’s wider education inclusion services.

“Newport City Council will hold drop in sessions for parents before the new arrangements come into effect to ensure that any questions are addressed.

“In the meantime, if parents have any queries they can contact the council’s education service directly at .”

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