500 deaf children wait to see if their education needs will be cut by Tower Hamlets Council
- Credit: Husna Begum
Little Hamza Islam is just a normal youngster doing his schoolwork on a laptop at home in Poplar during lockdown —except that he needs specialist support when he's in the classroom because of his profound deafness.
Hamza's mum Husna Begum is one of the parents facing an agonising wait over the future of specialist education services for more than 500 deaf children and thousands more with special needs in the East End which could soon be slashed.
Public consultations ended this week on plans by Tower Hamlets Council to save £650,000 by reducing learning support which helps disabled youngsters in the classroom. The final decision comes when the authority sets its annual budget.
But the National Deaf Children’s Society warns that the cuts would harm children’s education.
“This vital service provides a lifeline,” the society’s Hazel Badjie said. “Yet we’re left staring down the barrel of savage cuts that would show the council willing to sell off deaf children’s futures.”
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Staff numbers could be reduced in the support service from 28 to 14, including six specialist teachers for the deaf down to just three.
A town hall spokesman said: “The proposals are in response to changes in demand, to offer a service all year round and greater emphasis on independence for children with special needs and disabilities.”
Tower Hamlets received £49m from the government in 2019 for special needs—but it cost another £7m to keep the service going, a gap forecast to reach £12m by 2022. That worries parents.
Annika Cashman from Stepney, whose seven-year-old girl Alizée needs specialist support, said: “Alizée will be left in the hands of teachers who are not specialists in hearing impairments, with a risk of missing any deterioration.”
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Betul Erdogan in Bromley-by-Bow fears that the one-to-one sessions for his 11-year-old boy Boran will be cut. He said: “They can’t treat him like other kids — he needs extra support.”
Parents took part in an online council meeting on January 4 when a profoundly deaf university student about to graduate with a first-class degree made an impassioned plea to stop the cuts due in April. Iqbal Hassan, a 20-year-old from Bow, had specialist support for 14 years from nursery to secondary school which got him to university, he told councillors.
Families of thousands of East End children with special needs now brace themselves for the council’s decision, hoping specialist support continues after April.