MORE than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on councillors to rethink plans to shake up specialist early years education for children with special needs.

Worried parents took to the town hall steps last month to complain about Dudley Council’s plans to decentralise SEN provision provided by Leapfrog and Leapfrog Too at Netherton Park Nursery School and create five Early Years Inclusion Hubs at locations across the borough by autumn.

The protest and a subsequent discussion on Black Country Radio prompted a meeting between council bosses and parents desperate to keep the service as it is.

But campaigners say they still have major concerns about the plan and a petition calling for a U-turn on proposed changes has now garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

Parents want the Leapfrog facilities to remain as they are but council chiefs have said the authority’s plan aims to reduce the need for children to travel to an early years setting outside of their community and that it would help to keep “as many children as possible in mainstream education”.

The council has said the planned changes are part of an approved SEND strategy and improvement programme, which has been widely consulted on.

Settings for the Early Years hubs will be confirmed next month but campaigners fear this will not allow enough time for a fully functioning replacement service to be up and running by September.

Stourbridge News: Ashley Walton and his son ColeAshley Walton and his son Cole (Image: Ashley Walton)

Kingswinford dad Ashley Walton, whose four-year-old autistic son Cole has come on leaps and bounds since attending Leapfrog, said: “It’s the smallest amount of time to get in place a facility like this.

“Why not listen to the parents and keep Leapfrog in place while the hubs start their operation? Why such the big rush and push?”

Danielle Fryzer, who started the petition on, has called for Leapfrog to remain and for it to become a centre of excellence to train other staff to help children with SEN.

To see more or sign the petition click here.

Danielle said: “We are all for more hubs, but they need to replicate Netherton. Those who have worked in mainstream nurseries for 20 years would not be equipped for the role.

“It is crucial for our children’s development that they receive specialised input.

"Why take a service away that is proven to work and is excellent in what they do?”

Councillor Ruth Buttery, Dudley Council’s cabinet member-elect for children’s services and education, said: “Through the new hubs, we are developing an exciting opportunity to expand the existing service so we can help more pre-school age children get the support they need to reach their full potential.

“The tender application process has now closed and we’ll know by mid-June where the hubs will be located. I certainly look forward to being able to welcome children to the hubs from September and I am excited about future plans to expand the service even further.

“We were pleased to meet recently with parents and family members, of those children who attend or have attended Leapfrog, at their request to talk about the expansion of the service.”