Hundreds of classroom assistant jobs – include dozens working with children with additional needs – have been saved from council cuts after a public outcry.
Draft proposals leaked last week suggested 30 additional support needs (ASN) teachers and 270 pupil support assistants (PSA) could face redundancy as the authority seeks savings of just over £23million.
Staff working in behaviour support, psychology and with autistic children were among those identified as being at risk.
Budget team leader, Councillor Alister Mackinnon, last night said they would be “deleting” the “unpalatable” ASN and PSA cuts – which sparked threats of legal action – from all plans.
But he criticised the leak, which council leader Margaret Davidson said was part of a campaign of “scaremongering” about the cost-saving plans.
Mr Mackinnon said: “It was extremely unfortunate that the budget proposals were leaked causing a great deal of anxiety to staff, the council and parents and families.”
The draft proposals still include plans to axe up to 40 secondary teachers.
Fiona Matthews, a mum of two autistic boys who threatened legal action if the authority cut essential support staff at schools, said: “I’m just delighted they’ve seen sense.
“I hope they have got the message that every child’s right to an education is protected by law, not just those with additional needs.
“Highland Council should never have used vulnerable children as pawns in what is essentially a political battle between the council and the Scottish Government.”
And Inverness mother Sylvia Mackenzie, who fought for 10 years to have her son diagnosed with autism, said she was “relieved”.
“It was stupid that they were proposing this in the first place. It’s the worst thing to be targeting out vulnerable kids.
“But I do think Margaret Davidson took a step back and said, ‘this is a bigger problem than they first thought.’ I am glad. Hopefully we won’t have to be addressing it again.”
Mrs Davidson said: “We said from the start that these were leaks and we shouldn’t over-react to them, that we are considering things.
“The correct response should have been: we don’t think it is a good idea that you look at these savings around frontline ASN staff and we’ve got some alternative proposals.
“But it wasn’t – it was scaremongering. It was pretty unforgivable for that to be happening.”
But SNP councillors hit back, saying the cuts should not even have been “on the table”.
The budget team also said it was disappointing they still did not have the final budget from the Scottish government but expect it by next week.
Over the moon
There was “joy and relief” across the Highlands at the news the specialist teaching roles were to be spared the axe.
Kerry Maxwell, secretary of Friends of Autism Highland, said: “I am absolutely over the moon that the council has listened to the collective voice of our campaign and scrapped the proposed cuts.
“They would have had a devastating impact right across Highland communities for children, families and those whose jobs were at risk.
“It is beyond a relief to know that our children’s support services and the jobs of those who play such an amazing and impactful role in our children’s lives are safe.
SNP Group spokesman Councillor Richard Laird said: “I am pleased to hear that the administration have taken on board our suggestions in preventing cuts. They should never have been on the table in the first place. It’s better to do it now rather than later and prolong the stress any longer.”
Labour Councillor Bet McAllister said: “There will be widespread relief throughout so many schools in the area, because this loss of jobs would have damaged children’s prospects. Saving these education jobs is so important.”