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Two years out of school, left out of class photos, no friends to play with: Moray parents reveal the REAL impact of ASN cuts in schools

Families fear their children may no longer be able to attend school if the specialist help that supports them is reduced.

Parents holding up ASN protest banners on Moray Council HQ steps.
Dozens of parents attended the protest outside Moray Council. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Parents in Moray have revealed the heartache of fearing their children with additional support needs (ASN) may never get to play and learn with others the same age.

Dozens of families, many carrying photos of their children, protested outside Moray Council headquarters yesterday to raise concerns about the cuts in schools.

Some parents told of how their children had not been at school for two years due to a lack of support, been left out of class photos and been forced to look on as other youngsters play together.

It comes as the local authority has already agreed to change how it manages ASN and teacher allocations to cut costs.

Consultation talks are currently ongoing with PSAs (pupil support assistants) to try and avoid job losses.

The Press and Journal spoke to families at the protest about the current ASN provision in Moray, their fears and hopes for the future and what it means for their children, including:

  • How one pupil has been excluded from his P1 class photo.
  • Why Moray needs a specialist ASN school.
  • The reasons one teenager thinks the PSAs helped him stay in school.
  • How all children are affected when one has a “meltdown” in class.
  • The impact staff uncertainty is having on children.

‘My son missed out on being in his class photograph’

Lynn Prise holding a banner with photo of her son Woody.
Lynn Prise attended the Moray ASN protest with a photo of her son Woody. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Lynn Prise attended the protest with a poster carrying a photo of her son Woody, who attends New Elgin Primary School.

Woody requires one-to-one support 24 hours a day due to him being non-verbal autistic and having a pica food disorder, which causes him to try and eat inedible items.

The specialist needs mean he can’t attend mainstream classes and has all his lessons in the ASN portacabin at the school.

Lynn said: “I think he would be better included, just so he’s part of everything.

“He never gets to join in. They do try to get him over to the school but it usually doesn’t happen for one reason or another.

“When he started in P1 he wasn’t even in the class photo with the other children. They said they couldn’t get him over so we got a picture of him on his own instead.”

Lynn explained she receives repeated phone calls from the school to collect him and has been forced to reduce her working hours as a dinner lady to help cope.

She said: “I just do two hours a day now. Going to work is really important for my mental health too, because Woody needs that 24/7 support.

“The ASN hub is excellent at the school but if the hours get cut then Woody is going to really struggle with that.

“The alternative is to have him at home, but then I would have to give up work.”

Pupil praises ASN support for keeping him in school

Charles Kirkbride and his mother Charlotte holding a banner.
Charles Kirkbride, pictured left, attended with his mum Charlotte and praised the ASN support he has received. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Charles Kirkbride, who is an S4 pupil at Speyside High, received one-to-one support through primary school to help him with his Asperger’s diagnosis.

The teenager is now preparing to do National 5 exams with hopes to one day design video games.

Mother Charlotte believes the extra help helped keep her son in school when he might otherwise have refused to leave home.

She said: “Without that one-to-one support he would have been a school-refuser, I really believe that.

“The support staff are so essential for the children, but also the teachers too to have that other adult in the room.

“We’re really here for the children who are coming after Charlie, because they deserve the same.”

Charlie, who continue to receive one-to-one support until S2, added: “I started S1 during coronavirus and I was very much lost. I didn’t really know what to do. Without the PSA I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

“I feel like I’m more confident, less anxious and more social. I’ve done better in my classes and am more academic.”

‘Moray needs a specialist ASN school’

Lauren Clark and Charlotte Dixon holding banners on Elgin High Street.
Lauren Clark and Charlotte Dixon have spearheaded the new ASN group in Moray. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Friends Lauren Clark and Charlotte Dixon organised the protest after forming the Moray ASN Parent Carer Action Group last year.

Together parents have campaigned for more sessions at venues tailored to children who have additional needs.

The work has led to special ASN ice skating at Moray Leisure Centre and similar sessions at Fika in Elgin town centre.

Lauren said: “My daughter Lola has cerebral palsy and wouldn’t be about to go to school without a PSA, she needs two-to-one support at times and one-to-one at others.”

The parents initially began campaigning for additional ASN provision in Moray to address concerns, before then learning fresh cuts were in the pipeline as part of review.

They now hold regular talks with education bosses and the NHS to raise concerns on behalf of other families.

Lauren added: “We think ASN children are disadvantaged living in Moray when you look at other parts of Scotland.

Almost every other area has a specialist ASN school. Not every child would need it, but I know my daughter would be going to one if we lived in another part of the country.”

‘Schools are trying their best, but can’t cope’

Kelly Spark in sunglasses holding up two A4 posters.
Kelly Spark praised the staff at Aberlour Primary School, but said they needed more help. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Kelly Spark’s son Archie, who is autistic with ADHD, attends mainstream classes at Aberlour Primary School.

The Speyside mum, who is chairwoman of the parent council, believes the ASN review undertaken by Moray Council did not go far enough into examining the individual situation of each school.

She said: “As much as Aberlour Primary is fantastic and they really do try to do their best with what they have, the service provision just isn’t there from the council to make Archie feel included.

“When he has a meltdown the whole class needs to be removed from the classroom and they go to the library.

“Other children are laughing at him. It’s not right for Archie, and it’s not good for the other children either, especially in such a small community.

“I’m told when Moray Council did the ASN review they were only at Aberlour Primary for two hours and didn’t go to any of the classrooms – that doesn’t take into account the children or what could go on at any given moment.

“It needs to be a more thorough review.”

‘Uncertainty for PSAs harming children’s education’

Emma Cormie and Derek Ross on Elgin High Street.
Emma Cormie and partner Derek Ross fear staff changes in schools are unsettling. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Emma Cormie’s five-year-old son Evan goes to nursery for about four hours every morning.

Last year the Elgin youngster, who is non-verbal autistic, had a particularly good year in class, which has now become unsettled again after his PSA left.

Ms Cormie says the staff member felt she had no other option to move on after only receiving a temporary contract for the post.

She said: “It was the only contracts Moray Council were giving out. She felt she had to move for a permanent job, which I completely understand, she’s got a mortgage to pay.

“They were just able to form a fantastic bond with Evan and provided good support for him to attend, which is his right, it’s every child’s right.

“It’s the knock-on effect that this then has on the children, who are the most vulnerable in our society.

“Evan’s still getting the support he needs at the moment, but we don’t know what it means for the children coming behind him. The two nurseries could lose five PSAs between them.”

‘Cuts are mainly hitting low-paid female workers’

Janis Donaldon in purple Unison polo shirt.
Moray Unison branch secretary Janis Donaldson. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomoson

Union Moray Unison has opposed to cuts being proposed to the service.

Branch secretary Janis Donaldson explained many PSAs had wanted to attend the Moray ASN protest to support families and children, but had been told not to.

She said: “The PSAs are so dedicated to their jobs, even with the violence and aggression they experience. They are bearing the brunt of that.

“Most of the staff affected are low-paid female workers, although there are some men too.

“Reductions to ASN provision affect the whole school. If there are fewer PSAs then it increases the workloads on the teachers and head teachers.”

Moray Council: ‘We understand the strength of feeling’

Councillors speak to protestors outside Moray Council HQ.
Councillors and Moray Council’s interim chief executive speak to parents outside. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Moray Council has stressed a consultation remains ongoing with PSA staff about future jobs after councillors backed efforts to bring ASN allocations within budgets.

Bridget Mustard, deputy chairwoman of the education, children’s and leisure services committee, addressed parents at the Moray ASN protest from the steps of the Elgin High Street HQ building.

She told families she had a child with ASN needs herself, stressing the current council review would aim to invest in training and learnings from other councils.

Mrs Mustard said: “We are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue and that it isn’t just about numbers and that the appropriate level of care and education is a significant priority for parents and carers.

“The plan recognises that additional support needs are varied and have developed and changed over time, which is why our proposals to redesign the service for supporting pupils with ASN has gone through a number of iterations, taking account of learning from other local authorities and input from across our own teams to make sure we make the changes needed to get it right to meet future needs.

“It’s a complex support service that we’re required to deliver and in a challenging financial backdrop it is important that we make the best investment for the future.

“Despite the difficult financial position, the proposals represent an ongoing budget commitment and set out a future service to reflect the need to create nurturing, inclusive environments for our young people.”