HUNDREDS of parents across Dudley fear their disabled children could lose places at specialist schools and be moved to mainstream instead.

An online petition against ‘cuts’ to special education services in Dudley has attracted nearly 1,000 signatures.

Dudley Council’s special education services is currently under an external review, and two key issues are raising anxieties among parents:

• The possibility of cutting capacity at specialist centres and moving children into mainstream settings

• The possibility of ‘closing down’ the Special Early Years Service (SEYS) and merging it into the Special Education Needs service (SEND).

Many parents whose children go to special early years centres - one example is Brockmoor specialist nursery at Brierley Hill - fear their children will not cope in mainstream and need special attention.

Their fears come against the background of a highly critical report by Ofsted inspectors into the special education service run by the council.

In that context, the council has asked an expert in early years education to consider its entire service.

The council are adamant they want to get the right level of support to children ‘in an appropriate setting’, and that there will always be specialist centres for those who cannot attend mainstream.

But they also insist that mainstream schools have proved the best place for most SEND children, producing better outcomes for them for their adult life.

But some parents are equally adamant that their children have flourished in specialist schools and that sending then mainstream has not worked in the past

Large numbers say they do not want to see SEYS cut.

“Mainstream nurseries do not have the same specialist experience or support required to meet the needs of my child,” said one anxious mum on the online petition.

“Without the early intervention and support, my child’s learning and development is likely to be impacted on more as they go through the education system.

“I really feel that it is key to their development to have the necessary support available to them from the Early Years stage.”

Councillor Ruth Buttery, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We put the wellbeing of our children and young people at the heart of all we do, and inclusion is a vital aspect of our vision.

“Our Ofsted approved SEND improvement programme has been created in conjunction with our partners to ensure all our children can receive the right level of support in an appropriate setting.

“We know mainstream is the best setting for most children with SEND as it offers huge benefits, not only during childhood but also for their prospects as adults, and we support nurseries and schools to be diverse places that embrace and celebrate difference.

“Specialist provision will always remain in place for those who cannot attend mainstream and our special schools will continue to provide excellent support and education for those with the most complex needs. We are also implementing specialist one to one support for families to help them access education, health and social care.”

Across the whole country demand for special education is growing but councils are under huge financial pressure because of government spending cuts.