Three Welsh Assembly Members have put party differences to one side to call on Swansea Council to rethink their approach to the City’s Education Other than at School service following a number of changes that appear to be preparing the service for cuts, without any meaningful consultation with staff and trade unions.
Welsh Liberal Democrats AM, Peter Black, Welsh Conservative AM, Suzy Davies and Plaid Cymru AM, Bethan Jenkins are concerned that Swansea Council's proposal to cut this budget will leave many vulnerable children at risk of losing out on an acceptable education. The service covers pupil referral units and Home Tuition for children who cannot access mainstream primary and secondary schools through social, emotional, behavioural or medical needs. EOTAS helps many young people carry on their learning and achieve their academic and personal potential.
They say that since the presentation of initial restructuring proposals on 2nd February this year, EOTAS parents have received no further information or consultation response feedback whatsoever. Key stakeholders, professionals in Swansea schools, such as Special Educational Needs Coordinators and the parents of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services’ pupils affected by the changes, and currently taught in groups in Trehafod Child and Family Clinic, seem to have been excluded altogether. There has been no consultation response feedback meetings with EOTAS staff and the council has not engaged on an equal basis with trade unions. Four unions out of the six working jointly on this issue still await the basic consultation summary document, which so far has been sent only to the two unions who took strike action in May and June. All the unions are waiting for information, some of which was requested as long ago as October 2014.
As a result staff are in dispute with the Council over the planned cuts and at the failure to properly engage with trade unions or to consult them on changes brought to their attention, already announced as firm plans and/or already implemented. The three AMs want the council to call a halt to piecemeal changes to the service and to sit down with parents, staff, key professionals and trade unions to decide on a way forward on the service that will guarantee continued quality and capacity of support for every single child. They also want the council to follow its own consultation procedures on any reorganisation, its own management policy and its own Education Business Plan before making any more changes.
Commenting, Bethan Jenkins said: "I have engaged with parents, pupils and those who work in the sector, and they tell me how disgraceful the obvious lack of consultation on this has been, especially given that the changes will directly and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable children in the county.
“Fundamental questions for me are what is the point of having a consultation process if people raising concerns aren't even replied to? What is the point of having a scrutiny panel if people are being sent redundancy notices before scrutiny have had a chance to send back their findings?
“As someone who is a strong advocate for mental health causes, I am worried about the future provision for young people with mental health conditions also, if these cuts go ahead without proper scrutiny".
Peter Black said: “The Council seems to have told staff in one specialist unit that there will be no further pupil referrals from September and that any vacancies arising in Central Education or elsewhere in the service will be filled not by them but by agency staff whilst recently telling the Evening Post that no decision has been made and the Scrutiny Panel that they are currently just in a scoping phase.
“Parents are also under the impression that their children will no longer have the support of experience, qualified specialist staff at the start of the next academic year. Information is scarce and the council’s communication with those affected and the way that have handled this issue is shambolic. This is an entirely unacceptable way to proceed.”
Suzy Davies added: “Increasing the anxiety of families whose children need to be educated outside of the school environment, often for very upsetting reasons, is just callous. What we have heard about the consultation process alone makes me question Swansea Council’s commitment to children’s rights – and this council signed up to give due regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, let’s not forget.
“Saving money is difficult for local authorities. However, if they treat sensitive issues like this with such amateurish disregard for the people affected, the question of their competence to make difficult decisions is bound to arise.”