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£6m cuts could hit Highland schools

As Highland Council faces a budget black hole of over £60m, it turns to its schools to help plug the funding gap

Cuts worth millions set to hit Highland schools

As Highland Council faces a budget black hole of over £60m, it turns to its schools to help plug the funding gap

A Scottish council has set out its plans to save almost £6 million over the next three years by “transforming” the way children with additional support needs are supported in school and cutting the number of specialist teachers.

Highland Council plans to reduce the number of specialist ASN teachers working in its schools through natural wastage and also to redeploy them as class teachers in schools hit by staff shortages.

Already official figures show the number of ASN teachers working in Scotland fell by 122 staff between 2014 and 2017, despite the fact that the number of pupils with a recorded additional support need continued to rise.

However, Highland Council is using the high proportion of children in its schools with an ASN to make the case for change.

It said that similar local authorities did not report such high levels of ASN and were achieving “improved outcomes".

In Highland Council, 37.2 per cent of primary pupils were recorded as having an ASN, compared with a 23.5 per cent nationally. At secondary, 40.6 per cent of Highland pupils had a recorded ASN, as compared with 29.9 per cent nationally.

Cuts to ASN support staff

By redesigning the support that ASN pupils receive, the council said it hoped to save £2.9 million in the first year and £1.6 million for the next two years, but it was not clear how many ASN teacher posts would be lost.

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The saving proposal said the remaining ASN teachers would have “a greater focus on staff training and strategic planning”.

It said that the “upskilling” of classroom teachers would take place “to achieve a more flexible and responsive service”.

It also mentioned making better use of “third-sector partners”, with the goal being to develop “a whole community approach to inclusion and support for young people”.

The saving proposal stated: “Staff:pupil ratios in special schools will be reviewed and other specialist posts will be reviewed to provide support around children in mainstream school, upskilling teachers to facilitate a more inclusive model of provision for children with ASN.”

The papers stated that “vacancy controls, staff turnover, transition and retraining will be used to avoid job losses” but “revision in ASN teaching would change the role of this group of staff”.

In budget proposals published on Friday, the council also set out plans to save £3.5 million in the coming year by revising staff allocations to primary, secondary and special schools and introducing “a targeted approach to management of absence”.

The result – said the council – would be the removal of “all ad-hoc” posts above “the core … teaching complement for schools” and the introduction of “a different type of HR support”, which would include “access to specialist support such as counselling”.

For the three year period – 2019-20 to 2021-22 – Highland Council said it faced an estimated “budget gap” of £60.3 million and that its grant from Scottish government to provide existing services in 2019-20 was reduced by almost £5 million on 2018-19.

Highland Council will meet on Thursday to decide finally on the savings proposals that will go ahead.

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