A Highland charity which supports children with special needs and their families has blasted Highland Council for teacher cuts.
Friends of Autism Highland (FAH) say the cuts will not only end up discriminating against children with complex needs, but also prejudice the education of mainstream pupils.
The group is calling for a full Equality Impact Assessment and consultation before things go any further, saying to date they have never been consulted.
Highland area has almost 13,500 pupils with at least one additional support need.
More than 37% of primary pupils have been identified as Additional Special Needs (ASN) compared with a national average of 23.5%.
The figure is even worse in secondary, with 40.6% of pupils with ASN compared to a national average of 29.9%.
The council’s response is a ‘transformational’ redesign of ASN, agreed by councillors in its February budget-setting meeting.
The local authority will take £1.06m out of its ASN budget in the forthcoming financial year, including £700,000 in ‘re-allocation’ of Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs).
FAH, which helps more than 450 families across the region, says schools are already struggling with tiny budgets and over-stretched staff.
Kerry Maxwell Johnstone, chairwoman of FAH said: “Mental health issues will increase as there are many children with stress and anxiety who manage to cope only due to the level of support they have at present.
“If this support is removed, then this in itself will create a whole new set of issues.”
Highland Council’s interim head of education services, Dr James Vance said the council is currently in the process of arranging meetings with interest groups and individuals over the next fortnight.
He said: “It will be important to dispel a number of myths which are circulating and I hope that this will reassure those with any concerns.
“A phased approach will be taken to resource allocation so that it is equitable and targeted to where it is most needed.
“We are now in the process of allocating resources to schools for the next school year and following this, we will aim to work closely with all staff and schools to ensure a smooth transition.
“We will continue to target support to those pupils with greatest needs and there will be no reduction in the quality of support given to our pupils with significant and complex support needs.”
The council’s Care, Learning and Housing chairman, councillor John Finlayson said: “Vacancy controls, re-allocations, retraining and internal deployment will be used to reconfigure the workforce to a more efficient and effective model, which will continue to provide the appropriate levels of support to children to enable them to achieve their best potential.
“We have a chief executive [Donna Manson] who has 29 years of experience in Education and Children’s services and in that time has presided over multiple complex change projects in this area.
“More expenditure on ASN does not necessarily lead to better outcomes, whereas more strategic expenditure on professional development will, and that is what we are planning.”