PARENTS of children with special needs have raised concerns about plans to change how the service is provided.

Dorset County Council, which is responsible for education, is overhauling how it caters for youngsters with special educational needs.

The proposals include plans to identify four hubs around Dorset made up of an existing special school and at least one nearby mainstream school.

Any existing mainstream schools which currently offer special provision would be converted into part of one of the new hubs, or phased out.

But in a consultation, some parents hit out at what they consider a ‘cost-saving exercise’.

A report to the county council’s Children’s Services Overview Committee at County Hall in Dorchester stated that 73 per cent of respondents – 21 people – saw the move as a ‘positive way forward’.

Presenting the report to councillors, Lyn Frith said although only 21 people responded to this direct question about how far they agreed with the overall principles of the proposals, the consultation process had included a greater number of parents and professionals.

The report states: ‘Some respondents felt they could not give an informed perspective until we had further consulted on the actual model that was intended for implementation.

‘For some respondents, the proposals were seen as purely a cost-savings exercise, even though it was made clear the proposals are not about reducing places but changing what it is that places provide and where they are provided’.

Councillor Daryl Turner said: “My worry with consultations is that you get the vocal minority responding, whereas the majority never do.”

The move comes as the Children and Families Bill became law after receiving Royal Assent last week, pledging to improve support for children with special educational needs.

Councillor Mike Byatt said: “This is a move to a more localised, hub-based approach. But we need to be aware of any important issues coming out of the statutory changes.”

Director for children’s services Sara Tough, who prepared the report for councillors, said the changes will reduce the need for children to travel long distances because the provision they need is so far away.

But the feedback from the consultation noted that: ‘There was a balanced view on the need for transport, with some parents citing the need for their child to be in the right school, not simply the nearest’.

Parental choice will continue to be a priority, councillors were assured, and any changes will be implemented at a ‘natural transition’ phase for each child, such as the end of primary school.

The changes will be introduced gradually over the next three years.

Councillors at the committee noted the progress of the review.