Council boss attempts to allay ASN cut fears
Highland Council’s top boss has attempted to allay the fears of Sutherland parents over a radical shake-up of its services for the region’s most vulnerable children.
Recently appointed chief executive Donna Manson claimed there was a “lot of scaremongering” going on in relation to the cost-cutting review of resources allocated to additional support needs (ASN).
Mrs Manson, a former head-teacher and schools trouble-shooter, addressed an audience of parents and parent council representatives from East Sutherland schools at the Golspie Inn on Tuesday evening
Also in attendance was the council’s north education quality improvement manager Alison Donald and East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Deirdre Mackay.
The meeting was called after personal support assistants (PSAs), who work with pupils with a wide range of learning and physical needs, were sent letters saying their jobs would disappear at the end of the academic year.
They have been invited to apply for other roles within the council.
The authority says change is needed not just to shave £1.06 million from the ASN budget, but also because it is felt the service is underperforming with other councils achieving better outcomes.
Questions have also been raised as to why Highland has a much a higher number of children in need of additional support than the national average.
Mrs Manson said she was aware of a current waste of resources. She knew of instances where PSAs had remained in a school – despite the pupils they were employed to support having left.
And she called into question Highland’s method of categorising vulnerable children into four different levels
“I see inefficiencies in the resources we have got. It is not working for us and we have to face up to that,” she said.
“It is about getting a better system for our children and working with you to understand some of the things that are working and are not.
“I am confident we have a high enough level of resources to continue to manage and support our most vulnerable children.”
And she added: “There is a lot of scaremongering going on. Staffing allocations for each school will be finalised by mid-May.
She revealed that it had been decided to add two extra in-service days to the 2019/20 academic year to provide special needs training to teachers.
Parents at the meeting said they were concerned that the shake-up would lead to teachers being left unsupported.
Jennifer Port, Golspie, told Mrs Manson: “Teachers are stressed and overworked at the moment and they are probably already at breaking point. It could be catastrophic for your budget if all your teachers being to leave.”
Another said: “Staff are struggling to cope now. How are they going to cope if PSAs are withdrawn? As a parent and volunteer in a school, I see things breaking down. It is quite shocking.”
Golspie parent council chairwoman Becky Shaw said it was unfortunate that the review had come across as a savings driven exercise rather than a child needs exercise.
She suggested that while those with more complex needs would receive support others with milder disabilities would lose out.
But parents welcomed Mrs Manson’s pledge to work with them and to return to East Sutherland for further meetings.
The chief executive also called for any parent interested to become a “parent advocate” and work with Highland Council on the review.