An action plan on how best to support children with additional support needs in school has been given the green light.
However, it took the casting vote of the chairman at a Moray Council committee meeting today to get through a business case as a starting point for a review of the service following a debate lasting an hour and a half.
Opposition councillors criticised the report before members of the education, communities and organisational development committee as lacking direction and detail.
But members of the SNP administration said the plans were a starting point for developing the service for children’s benefit.
Buckie SNP councillor Sonya Warren tabled a motion to approve the business case to kick-start the review,
She said: “We have a growing number of pupils being classified as additional support needs and we can get something in place to get us to move forward.
“This is a base plate and lot more work will come from this.
“This is about what we need to do to provide the best learning opportunities for all our young people with learning support needs.”
‘This is exactly what I didn’t want to see’
Conservative councillor for Buckie Tim Eagle did not believe there had been enough consultation carried out in preparation of the report.
He said: “This is exactly what I didn’t want to see. It seems like the old way of doing things with officers getting together and deciding what’s required.”
Mr Eagle put forward an amendment to establish a working group headed by an independent chairperson and include two council officers, members from each political group, parent representative and head teacher to lead the review.
However, committee chairman and SNP Forres councillor Aaron McLean felt the transform learning board, including councillors and officers, fed into the creation of the business case and action plan had fulfilled that role.
Elgin North councillor Frank Brown thought the report was flawed, and seconded Mr Eagle.
He said: “What we are presented with today is the outline business case for a review which has no plan, no destination nor route.
“If I might pick a biblical analogy we have a latter-day Moses, not sure who, heading off into the wilderness with no destination or route.”
Independent councillor for Forres George Alexander asked if Mr Eagle and Mr Brown were lobbying for a special school in Moray, which they denied.
Vote goes down to the wire
The 14 members were split with seven votes each between the motion and amendment so Mr McLean used his casting vote as chairman to pass the business case and action plan.
At the end of the meeting, which lasted until around 3pm, independent councillor Derek Ross called for the transform learning board to be expanded to include a head teacher, additional support needs specialist and more councillors.
He said: “With the debate on additional support needs, there was a real lack of scrutiny. That really, really concerned me.”
Head of legal and democratic services Alasdair McEachan advised expanding the board could be done through group leader discussion and he was preparing a scrutiny charter for elected members to go before the next full council meeting.
Around 38% of Moray’s school children have additional support needs.
The aim of the review is to create a flexible, responsive service based on the ethos of the Getting It Right for Every Child policy.
Consultation with schools and other stakeholders will form part of the review, and a pilot is expected to run in the Forres associated schools group.