Martin De La Mora

Well supported: Martin De La Mora receives expert help from the Hackney Learning Trust. Photograph: Jack Jeffreys

The father of a disabled boy who lives in Stoke Newington is urging the council to rethink plans to slash the borough’s early support team by 48 per cent.

The Town Hall has been conducting a private consultation on the proposals, which it says are part of an overall cut of 20 per cent to the Hackney Learning Trust’s (HLT) inclusion service budget.

The cost-saving measures mean a number of Area Sencos (special educational needs co-ordinators) and highly trained teachers face the axe.

Francisco De La Mora’s son, Martin, has periventricular leucomalacia (PVL), a condition that means he has difficulty speaking.

The four-year-old attends the Minihome nursery on Allen Road, where he receives expert help from Area Senco Olutoyin Henry and play specialist Dianne Sandler. Francisco described their work as “incredibly important”.

He said: “They are like a bridge between us and the Trust. It has been a very difficult journey for us, but it would have been much more difficult without them.

“When we heard about these cuts, we were worried not just about ourselves, but also for any new parents who will not have access to this amazing service.”

HLT’s early support team currently works with 248 children with complex needs, and reaches a further 400 kids across the borough who require extra guidance.

Francisco and Martin De La Mora

Close bond: Francisco and Martin take a selfie. Photograph: Francisco De La Mora

Francisco added: “Getting help at an early age is vital, because our brains are much more malleable. It has really benefitted Martin to have that support so early, rather than waiting until he starts school.

“And for us as parents, it is not just the practical things but the emotional support that we are so grateful for. Just knowing we are not alone is a massive boost.

“We beg the council to reconsider its decision.”

Francisco gave a touching example of exactly the sort of help Martin receives. When the four-year-old’s difficulties with speaking became clear, Olutoyin began teaching him Makaton, a sign language originally developed for adults that now helps children with special needs express themselves through movement.

Francisco said: “Before Makaton, Martin could not say anything. Now he can say things like ‘I love you’ by using his body. Without Olutoyin’s help, that would not have happened.”

Billie Chan, who runs the Minihome nursery, said: “I am very concerned about the proposed cuts to services for children with special needs in Hackney nursery settings.

“I worry in general that the lack of support, which I predict from this loss of Senco staff, will result in a reduction in capability in nurseries such as mine, and this will have a huge impact on children with special needs.

“If their needs are then not well met, this will have knock-on effects, not only for the child and their family, but for all the other children too, because the potential for disruptive behaviour may be increased.

“This might result in exclusion rather than inclusion and that is a real downward spiral.”

Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble.

Unavailable: Deputy mayor and chief of children’s services Anntoinette Bramble

Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble, who is in charge of children’s services in Hackney, was due to release a statement about the cuts, but was later said to be “unavailable”.

It was left to a council spokesperson to say: “Central government’s attack on education budgets – including reductions to the Dedicated Schools Grant and changes to the national funding formula, which will remove millions from Hackney’s schools – mean that we’re having to make some tough decisions to ensure services are funded in a way that makes them sustainable in the long term.

“We know how important the Inclusion and Specialist Support Service is to many families so we want to ensure that, in the face of ongoing cuts from Central Government, it can continue to operate in the future.

“We have already consulted with staff and trade unions and plan to conduct a public consultation to ensure that early years settings, schools, parents and families, and professionals can provide feedback and help to shape the future of the service.

“Education and the wellbeing of children remains the council’s priority and we will continue to ensure that the needs of children with special educational needs will be met.”

Teachers from HLT’s inclusion team have voted unanimously to strike this Thursday in protest against the cuts, which they say will affect “the most vulnerable and needy children and families in the borough”.

A rally is set to take place outside the Town Hall at 1pm.

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