Highland Pupils Walk Out Over Cuts To Pupil Support

Pupil Support Protest in Highlands with sign saying; Education is an investment, not a cost.
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School children and parents staged a protest outside The Highland Council headquarters in Inverness on Friday over planned cuts to pupil support for those with additional support needs. The children walked out of lessons to protest the Independent run Highland Council’s three-year “phased approach” to reduce the number of Additional Support Needs teachers (ASNs) and Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs).

Highland Council recently voted to make savings (cuts) of £700,000 to Pupil Support Assistant roles in the 2019/20 tax year.

This would see a reduction of at least 63 PSAs with the council saying it hopes to avoid redundancies. In light of this, their union GMB Scotland, has sent out ballot papers for a vote on Industrial Action.

It isn’t just Support Assistants being targeted under the cuts. Specialist Additional Support Needs (ASN) Teachers are also being cut back.

Highland Council say there will be a training programme to help ASNs take up other teaching roles in the area. As for PSAs, it is hoped, they can take up new roles in Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) although, this is still in the planning stages.

The local authority, in which I live, say it has the highest reported levels of pupils with Addition Support Needs (ASNs) in Scotland. Currently 13,461 pupils have been identified as having at least one ASN.

The Council currently spends £36.1m on its ASN budget to support 1,253 full-time “equivalent” jobs.

Pupil Fears for Those in Need of Support

Skye Hawkins Pupil Support Protest Inverness, Highlands

Skye Hawkins, 17, currently receives support

Skye Hawkins, 17, from Cannich, was one of those who helped organise the protest.

Hawkins told media at the protest;

“I have been in the support system for three years now and when I heard that it could potentially be cut back on the amount of staff I just thought ‘how drastically will this impact on the kids?’

“There are already kids who cannot attend school because they don’t get the support they need.

“I myself was off sick because I didn’t get the support that I needed.”

The protest wasn’t just attended by pupils either. Parents and carers also turned up to voice concerns their children may suffer because of the cuts.

Council Leader Offers Talks With Protesters

Independent Councillor and Leader of the Highland Council Margaret Davidson
Independent Councillor and Leader of the Highland Council Margaret Davidson

Highland Council’s leader, Independent Councillor Margaret Davidson, paid tribute to those in attendance for “drawing attention to the issue”. She also made an offer to talk to the protesters in the council headquarters.

Davidson said it was “unlikely pupils who need it” would lose support.

“If you get an assessed need and need ASN support then you will get it.”

Ms Davidson described the cuts as a “re-design” of the ASN system to help the council get its finances back on track.

Cuts in the Wrong Places?

The local authority has previously been accused of making poor decisions when it comes to the council’s budget. Last year they twice voted to keep their funded lunches for council meetings. The amount spent in 2017/18 on free food for the councillors was £33,149.66.

Councillors can claim £12 per meeting for hot meals, rolls, tea, coffee and biscuits if, a meeting extends over three hours.

The SNP tabled votes came after it was revealed councillors overspent their £160,000 departmental budget, which includes lunches and snacks, by £4000.

Despite this overspend, both votes where defeated and the councillors kept their free lunches.

It is also worth mentioning that the Council agreed a pay rise for staff such as social workers and administrative staff but, not for roles such as cleaners and dinner staff.

This is something I myself feel strongly about. My son has autism and is due to start primary school in August 2020. We have already had meetings with education officials as it is clear he will need one-to-one support. We are worried he won’t get the support he needs if this cuts go ahead.

At a recent meeting one of the officials warned it isn’t just the mainstream schools being targeted by these cuts but, also the specialist ones too.

This isn’t just an issues confined to the Highlands either. All across the UK local authorities are targeting ASN areas with cuts. AS usual, the most vulnerable are being left high and dry by those who are meant to look out for them.