Kilmallie council supports public meeting on pupil support

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Members of Kilmallie Community Council (KCC) have supported calls to hold a public meeting about plans to reallocate pupil support assistants in schools because of Highland Council budget cutbacks.

A public meeting of all Fort William area community councils was proposed earlier this month to address fears over Highland Council’s plans to save £2.8 million from its Additional Support Needs (ASN) budget, which includes Personal Support Assistant (PSA) provision, over a three-year period.

The council’s chief executive and its director of education were to be asked to attend a public meeting, however a date has not yet been set.

At a meeting on Monday night, KCC chairwoman Christine Hutchison said: ‘A lot of people are anxious there are going to be these changes within the education system and in schools, and they are worried they won’t have the support they need.’

Highland Council says it has the highest reported levels of ASN staff in Scotland and is beginning a phased approach to realign this role to where, it says, it is most required.

Caol and Mallaig councillor Denis Rixson, a former teacher at Mallaig High School, told members: ‘I have a background in education and feel very strongly about it, but it’s right that people have their voiced heard and get them answered.’

Mr Rixson pointed out that this year the £700,000 cuts in PSA funding is not ‘a huge amount’ Highland-wide and said that the council be instead investing more money into early years education.

He continued: ‘Communities have been forthright in expressing their views. I can see how strongly people feel and I accept that.

‘This is partly down to the success of head teachers. Part of it is about resolving anomalies in the system. But I don’t want to take away those parents’ rights to be concerned about it.’

Councillor Allan Henderson agreed that it is ‘relatively quite a small amount’ being cut from the PSA budget but ‘quite a big amount’ being funneled into the younger years.

Mr Henderson did warn members that any public meeting on PSA would have to happen ‘fairly soon’ as the bulk of the preparatory work is happening soon.

In concluding the discussion, KCC secretary Russell Leaper said that, given the number of people in support of a public meeting, the community council should support arranging a public meeting in principle, ‘even if it is just relaying people’s concerns’.