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Support teams are broken up

North Ayrshire has defended its decision to break up the area learning support network inherited from Strathclyde, despite worries that specialist staff will be misused.

The council wants to make the 39 learning support teachers, who serve primary and secondary schools from three teams each headed by a co-ordinator, more answerable to headteachers. Teachers fear this removal of specialist managerial leadership could leave them "isolated and unsupported".

Staff are particularly worried that the emphasis on early intervention might be lost. But headteachers back the move and argue that reducing the number of external managers will redirect resources towards helping children.

Jim Tulips, North Ayrshire's head of education services, has promised that a formal contract with each school on the delivery of learning support will include monitoring the way in which staff are deployed. "Any fears on the part of the teachers that their role will be weakened or their expertise misused are misplaced," Mr Tulips said.

But the Educational Institute of Scotland has already had complaints that learning support teachers are being used to provide internal cover for absences, and fears that other authorities could follow suit. Norman Bissell, the union's area officer, said: "It is likely to lead to a worsening of learning support provision."

Although the shake-up comes in the run-up to the 1997-98 budget settlement, Mr Tulips denied that the motivation was to save money. Apart from the reservations of learning support staff, the changes enjoyed "massive endorsement" from school-based teachers and heads during consultation, he said.

"It is about thinning management and concentrating resources in the classroom," Mr Tulips commented. "We simply felt the previous system was over-managed, complex and fussy."

The changes will take effect from August.

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