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Dad's fears over support needs cuts

By Caroline McMorran

Leslie Sharp, Additional Support Needs, ASN, Highland Council
Leslie Sharp, Additional Support Needs, ASN, Highland Council

A CONCERNED Sutherland parent is calling on the local authority to make clear the implications of a cut in budget to its services for children and young people with additional support needs (ASN).

Leslie Sharpe, whose 11-year-old autistic son attends St Duthus School in Tain, fears Highland Council is set to reduce the number of specialist teachers and pupil support assistants there.

He is now lobbying councillors, officials and MSPs in a bid to find out exactly what is proposed.

Offshore worker Mr Sharp, who lives in Rogart, said: "It is utterly unacceptable to remove specialist teachers and pupil support assistants from special needs schools.

"They are there for a reason. They are trained to that high standard to meet the challenging needs of children with a wide range of learning and physical needs."

Highland Council last week agreed to axe nearly £6 million over three years from the ASN budget as part of its bid to plug a budget black hole of more than £60 million over the next three years.

It has emerged that the number of pupils with ASN in the region in both primary and secondary schools is well above the national average. The council is using this as a driver for change and believes the service is underperforming with other councils achieving "improved outcomes".

In background papers the authority revealed it is planned to redesign the service with ASN teachers focussing on "staff training and strategic planning".

It is intended to upskill classroom teachers to "achieve a more flexible and responsive service" and to make better use of "third sector" partners.

The documents state: "Staff pupil ratios in special schools will be reviewed and other specialist posts will be reviewed to provide support around children in mainstream, upskilling teachers to facilitate a more inclusive model of provision for children with ASN."

Mr Sharp told the Northern Times: "We all understand that the council needs to save money, but it seems to be attacking the most vulnerable in our society, children with significant learning, psychological and physical needs."

Another Sutherland parent, who did not want to be named but has a child with special needs, has also lobbied local councillors.

She said: "I think that it is horrific that they have decided to cut the ASN budget when schools are at breaking point as it is. It is a sad state of affairs."

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, Inverness South, replying to an email from Mr Sharpe, said: "Most of the reduction in this area is about resolving inefficient working.

"Right now when a child with ASN moves school, the old school needlessly keeps that PSA/ASN teacher post and new ones are created at the new school."

Culloden and Ardersier Councillor Trish Robertson told Mr Sharpe: "It will not affect those (children) with the type of needs you refer to.

"There are allocated hours in some schools which are above the needs required due to historical allocation not being re-allocated when children move to another school.

"Please be assured children with special needs will not lose their support."

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