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Support assistant cuts run deep

Aberdeen council report highlights impact on behaviour and teachers

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Aberdeen council report highlights impact on behaviour and teachers

The drastic impact of slashing numbers of support assistants is becoming clearer, with teachers in one local authority complaining of poorer behaviour, more exclusions and insufficient support for many children with additional needs.

An Aberdeen City Council report - which also suggests that parents are having to pick up some of the slack in the classroom - will make grim reading for education directors across Scotland, with several other authorities having intimated they may also have to cut pupil support.

One union leader said the report backed up predictions that the cuts would affect all pupils and make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to comply with the Additional Support for Learning Act (ASL).

Aberdeen has gone where other councils are likely to follow, having initially reduced pupil support assistants (PSAs) by 23 per cent in 2009, followed by another cut of 33 per cent in 2011 designed to save pound;2.5 million. The overall reduction in PSAs is now 47 per cent.

A council report in February suggested further cuts would bring additional-needs support to breaking point, with schools reporting they were "only just managing at present".

That led to the commissioning of a further report, which went to the council's education committee yesterday. It is based on a survey which drew responses from 36 heads, 288 teachers and 177 PSAs.

They show that schools are having to concentrate on pupils with the most severe needs, and that their ability to intervene in other pupils' difficulties has been reduced. Staff also feel less able to avert low- level disruption.

"In the past, the adult who knew the child with additional support needs best and provided personal support for their learning was the pupil support assistant allocated to him or her," states the report by education support officer Helen Milne. "Now there is an issue with consistency and pupil support assistants are no longer allocated to an individual pupil."

PSAs' preparation of resources has been "reduced greatly", with the burden shifting to classroom teachers and - in primary schools - parents.

Meanwhile, "the goodwill which saw pupil support assistants working extra hours and making a voluntary contribution to the school community has now gone", focus groups suggested, although the report stresses that the council has responded to PSAs' calls for more CPD and training.

Management and teachers are dealing with more behaviour issues, while respondents believe the reduction in PSAs - a generic role created in Aberdeen in 2006 - has increased the number of short-term exclusions for some pupils.

The ability to develop Curriculum for Excellence and organise outdoor learning has also been affected.

AHDS, the primary heads' and deputes' union, has consistently "strongly advised" against the cuts to pupil support, arguing that they would make it "extremely difficult, if not impossible, for schools and the council to meet its obligations under the ASL Act" and would "risk compromising the learning and teaching for all pupils", as well as increasing staff absences through stress.

Responding to the findings, AHDS general secretary Greg Dempster said: "The report seems to reflect these points in the experience since implementation of the cuts."

Carolyn Finlayson, a manager at the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning, Enquire, said: "We hear from parents across the country who have concerns that changes to support staff are impacting on their children's ability to get the best they can from their school education.

"We commend the commitment to `Getting it right for every child' and to inclusion in the broader sense, but it is essential that schools and parents have the confidence to work together to make the best possible use of available resources."

Disappearing pupil support assistants in AberdeenPSAs in August 2008PSAs in August 2012Primary298.80157.28Secondary92.1146.99Figures are for "full-time equivalences"

Photo credit: Alamy

Original headline: Impact of support assistant cuts felt in Aberdeen

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