CAMPAIGNERS hope a 9,000 signature petition will be the turning point in the battle to retain existing support for special educational needs (SEN) children across the city.

Union reps and parents are calling on councillors to call a halt to proposed cutbacks in Brighton and Hove City Council’s current support team.

Campaigners fighting to keep the service will gather outside Brighton Town Hall ahead of Thursday’s meeting to deliver speeches and perform their campaign song.

Hundreds of SEN children in the city currently rely on what campaigners describe as the “specific guidance, hands-on support and training advisory teachers” from five specialist teams with “a phenomenal breadth of knowledge and experience”.

Under proposals currently under consultation, the five teams of 32 full time equivalent staff would be replaced with 12 generic SEN advisors.

Discussions have been ongoing between the council and unions in recent months and campaigners have said they have succeeded in obtaining a number of concessions including delaying the implementation of any cuts from March until the start of the new school year in September.

The council has also agreed to retain specialist teachers for literacy, language, autistic spectrum condition and sensory needs in the redesigned service.

But the NUT has warned the current pre-school specialism team still remains under threat from the proposed cuts.

There were also concerns the service would be forced to focus just on children with a statement rather than on preventative work currently being carried out.

Sadie Gillet, Brighton and Hove NUT’s SEN officer, said there were genuine concerns whether the new posts could be filled with the vast majority of staff unwilling to take a pay cut.

She said: “Discussions with existing staff indicate that very few staff want these jobs, they want proper pay, they want to retain their specialism and want to know there are enough people in their team to cover their workload.

“We know that other local authorities have had a real problem filling these posts after making similar changes.

“I think council officers are listening to us but I’m not sure they’re really willing to change, they say they don’t have enough money.”

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said: “The changes we have proposed for our learning support services are not set in stone.

“We are consulting staff on the proposed changes precisely because we want their views before we finalise our proposals.

“The final proposals will almost certainly not be exactly the same as the original ones.”

A consultation on the cuts is currently open at until January 30.