Parents and members of the local community in Grantown have thrown their support behind a campaign to halt council cuts to additional support needs.
Friends of Grantown Primary School have raised concerns over the local authority’s plans to reallocate pupil support assistants (PSAs) to meet the needs of only the highest cases – a move parents fear will significantly hamper the education of all children.
As concerns over the Highland Council cuts are translated into action across the north, over 5,400 people have pledged their support to an online petition which will be delivered to decision makers once it reaches its 7,500 capacity.
Ingrid Artus, chairwoman of Friends of Grantown Primary School, said: “These cuts will not just have an impact on our children who need a bit of extra help with their learning in school. These cuts will affect children who have suffered a bereavement, ill-health, significant learning difficulties and those who require some extra day to day work with their school work.
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“These cuts will have an immense long term impact on the education of our children who are our future workforce.
“We should be nurturing and encouraging their education instead of working out how to deliver the absolute minimum.”
The move comes following a decision in February by Highland councillors to claw back funds as part of budget saving measures.
The “transformational” redesign will see the local authority take £1.06m out of the additional support needs (ASN) budget, including £700,000 in the “re-allocation” of PSA.
The Friends of Grantown Primary School group fear that PSA staff currently on fixed or temporary contracts will see their employment terminated before the end of the academic year, with others redeployed into Early Year Practitioner posts or jobs of a similar pay level within Highland Council.
Concerns have also been raised regarding ASN teaching staff at facilities which will find themselves over allocation, with these employees becoming mainstream teachers instead.
At present, over 12,500 pupils in Highland schools require additional support, with figures in both primary and secondary schools way above the national averages.
In Highland primaries, upwards of 37% of pupils have been identified as ASN compared to the national average of 23.5%, with figures in secondary schools 10.7% higher than the rest of Scotland.
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “We appreciate that this is an uncertain time and we will do everything we can to clarify any queries.
“We are not able to provide details on the PSA staffing for individual schools/ASGs for the new school year until early May when the allocation process will be completed. However, the staffing numbers actually affected by the change this year are relatively minor in terms of the whole PSA workforce.
“A phased approach will be taken to resource allocation so that it is equitable and targeted to where it is most needed.”