Fears for Spean Bridge Primary pupil support

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Fears are growing over the future provision of Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs) for Spean Bridge Primary School pupils.

Highland Council’s chief executive and its director of education are to be asked to attend a public meeting in Spean Bridge to address fears over plans to re-allocate PSAs because of budget cutbacks.

Highland Council needs to save £2.8 million from its Additional Support Needs (ASN) budget, which includes PSA provision.

The local authority says it has the highest reported levels of ASN staff in Scotland and is beginning a three-year phased approach to re-align this role to where, it says, it is most required.

In a statement prepared on behalf of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council, chairman John Fotheringham, speaking at last week’s community council meeting, said: ‘Highland councillors and officials were clearly hoping PSA staff will either re-train to take additional nursery posts or accept transfer to a new location.

‘Training teachers to undertake this additional role is likely to have an effect on all pupils and have a negative impact on those who benefit from varying degrees of assistance,’ he said.

‘This is an undoubted consequence of the recent teachers’ pay increase, which is underfunded. Our children are the latest members of our community to suffer from austerity-driven council cuts.

‘Maybe it is time for Highland councillors to take the lead and accept cuts in their salaries and expenses, rather than pick on the most vulnerable in our society.’

Eilidh Maitland, secretary of Spean Bridge Primary School Parent Group, told the meeting parents were worried as the school was at risk of losing most of its PSA hours under the changes.

‘The hours are allocated on a need-for basis but in reality they support every child in the school,’ she explained.

‘There is not a single child in that school who has not had some benefit from a PSA.’

Highland councillor Ben Thompson told the meeting the local authority had been reviewing ASN provision since 2014 because of concerns over how quickly demands on that budget were growing.

‘In 2016, a re-design review was undertaken by officials outside of ASN management and recommendations were made. Some of those are what is being carried forward now,’ he said.

‘What is fundamental is that the council will be spending significantly more on education next year, not less.

‘So while the ASN budget is being reduced, there are significant increases elsewhere. The biggest increase is extra spending on nursery provision.

‘While some people may need to change roles, if this is well managed, there should not need to be any redundancies.

‘The council has to balance its budget while increasing nursery provision. At the same time we need to reform ASN provision and make it more efficient to cope with growing demand.

‘This means focusing the ASN budget on the most needy children and being as efficient as possible.’