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Highland Council school cuts spark fears among parents and teachers

By Scott Maclennan

HIGHLAND Council plans to cut funding to reform the allegedly under-performing additional support needs (ASNs) in the region has stoked fears that access to education could be inhibited for some children.

The council aims to save up to £5.9 million from the £36.1 million budget for ASNs over the next three years with the region having the highest reported number of ASN cases in Scotland.

One of the concerns of the council as well as members has been that attainment or the reaching of outcomes for pupils has not matched the funding and support available for ASNs.

Citing council papers, Friends of Autism Highland claimed the local authority aims to place children with “substantial” support needs at stages three and four on the ASN matrix back in the classroom.

That will be made possible by training teachers so they can attend to the needs of pupils while only those “with intimate care and moving and handling needs will be entitled to PSA support” or dedicated teaching.

That has led pupil support assistants, who work with those needing extra support, to fear for their jobs with a local charity saying the situation is “quite dire for some of these staff already.”

The charity said: “Some are estimating that approximately 40 per cent of the support for stages three and four children would be cut completely.

“Some of these children are already being denied an education as there is not adequate provision to allow them to attend school and some children are only being offered a few hours of schooling a week because again there is not enough support available to enable them to attend school. This is absolutely not good enough.”

The statement went on: “Highland Council or anyone for that matter cannot underestimate the value of an additional person in a classroom to A) support the pupils and B) to support the teacher to enable them to teach all pupils effectively.

“The impact of these proposals will be immensely detrimental to children not only in the autistic community but any children with additional support needs.”

Chairman of the council's care and learning committee John Finlayson said the priority would be delivering a service that worked.

“In addition to public and staff engagement, there has been extensive engagement with head teachers both in November and again in the New Year,” he said.

“In discussions with head teachers it has been recognised that the current allocation process has resulted in allocations in excess of the national average and beyond available resources.

“We will continue to target support to those pupils with greatest needs and there will be no reduction in the quality of support given to our pupils with significant and complex support needs.

“A training programme for teachers and PSAs is currently being developed for implementation from May 2019. Briefing packs have been prepared for staff and information on the process of change will be communicated over the coming weeks.

“Budget savings have been phased over three years to allow sufficient time to make the necessary changes and teachers and PSAs will be supported through the change process.

“The council is committed to protecting jobs, making changes without the need for redundancies wherever possible while continuing to meet the needs of all pupils.”

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