Parents turn up the pressure over classroom assistant posts

Additional Support Needs row continues to escalate.
Additional Support Needs row continues to escalate.

SUPPORT FOR PARENTS fighting to save classroom assistant posts in Moray’s schools has rallied around a rapidly growing social media site.

Councillors will discuss the issue of Additional Support Needs (ASN) in Moray when members of the children and young people’s services committee meets tomorrow.

A paper before members updates them on “current trends” in ASN including changes to funding – and how the Council plans to address these.

The report, prepared by Inclusion Manager Pat McLennan, outlines improvements made through exceptional support funding, action taken in the last year and proposals for further action for 2016/17.

It also outlines how the number of pupils receiving additional support in Moray has increased from 1426 in 2011 to 3197 last year – an increase of 123.3%, much higher than the equivalent national increase of 57.2%.

While parents have claimed that posts are already being lost in schools with some teaching assistants already being told they will not have a job after the summer holidays, the report offers a review of ASN provision in Moray will be taking place from August.

This, according to the local authority, is only possible because of an agreement put in place to cover the next three years – an agreement that parents say plans to reduce ASN provision in the short term.

The report says: “There will be a review across Moray, starting in August 2016, of how we meet the needs of pupils with ASN. This will involve consultation with pupils, parents, school staff, partner agencies, Locality Management Groups and any organisation which would like to make a meaningful contribution.

“The objective will be to identify ways of working which are more effective, efficient and cost beneficial. The driver is to ensure pupils with ASN are appropriately educated in schools which are best placed to meet their needs with appropriately skilled and trained staff within existing budgets.

“This will result in the production of an ASN Strategy document outlining actions to be taken over an extended period of time, possibly up to ten years.”

Last week the chair of the committee, Councillor Anne Skene, admitted that jobs would be lost “at some schools” but insisted that this was part of an overall reorganisation in the ASN hours allocated to each school according to their needs.

“Some schools will get a reduction in hours, some will get an increase in hours,” Councillor Skene said, adding: “That inevitably means the schools getting a reduction will employ less staff – and those with more hours will get more staff.”

Growing Campaign

Around 700 parents have joined a new Facebook page aimed at keeping parents informed and exchanging views on the situation.

Members of the parents’ action group will also be meeting local representatives of Enable Scotland today in Elgin to discuss what they see as a growing crisis.

One of the parents involved, Martin Duggan, last week contacted Susan McLaren, the head of integrated children’s services at Moray Council, expressing his concerns over the loss of ASN provision.

Parents to hold talks with Enable Scotland.
Parents to hold talks with Enable Scotland.

In her response, Ms McLaren insists that the local authority is doing nothing different this year than in any other, reacting to movements in the available funding for ASN with upwards or downwards provision at Moray schools.

Ms McLaren confirms that a new model had been introduced in Moray’s schools earlier this year following full consultation with Head Teachers and Principal Teachers – this, she said, will ensure that budgets for schools are “fixed for the next three years”.

However, she adds: “The application of the new process has resulted in a reallocation of ASN staffing across all schools in Moray, however this also means that there will be no further disruption or movement for staff over the next three years.”

Last night Mr Duggan hit out at the three-year model which parents say is reducing the number of ASN posts at a time when they are most in need.

He told insideMoray: “How can the council justify cutting money to a service which is clearly in need of more funding based on their own growth data?

“It is hard enough to get support for children with problems in Moray as it is without cutting back on what is available. This cut forces schools into offering a reduced support level for three years, meaning that in 2019 our ASN services will still be running on a budget lower than 2015 – and will almost certainly be under great strain.

“I have to question if every child really does matter to the council after all when they won’t even engage with those affected. We are now just two weeks away from the end of term and the council has needlessly thrown a lot of families into turmoil.

“Nobody seems willing to accept the fact that they are essentially discriminating against children who face challenges in their lives to balance their books.  Surely there is a better way?”

Visit the Facebook page set up by parents – ‘Additional support needs children need support in Moray’  for more detail and views.