Council focus - Vulnerable pupils missing out

11th December 2009 at 00:00
Three authorities `named and shamed' by charity as cutting assistance to families of children with additional support needs

A charity which helps parents of autistic children has accused Scottish councils of cutting support. It claims youngsters have been sent home because of schools' diminishing resources.

The picture painted by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers to the Scottish Parliament's education committee's inquiry into autism is bleak. Budget cuts meant additional support needs (ASN) teachers were being forced back into mainstream to save money, leaving vulnerable children to flounder, said the trust.

The evidence against the authorities was anecdotal but compelling, said Lynn Williams, the charity's policy officer. "I'm aware of two cases where children have been sent home because there were no pupil support assistants to support them. If you have a child with additional needs, you are already worried about what their life is going to be like and whether they will find a job. But if they have no education in the first place, where does that leave them?" she said.

Three authorities were "named and shamed" by the charity: Aberdeen, East Renfrewshire and Glasgow. Aberdeen City Council was cutting spending to the detriment of "vulnerable children", said the trust.

"Further `efficiency' cuts will, among other things, result in fewer teachers supporting pupils in Aberdeen City's MICAS bases (specialist units for children with autism in mainstream schools). I also believe that schools were encouraged, by the council, to move support for learning teachers back to their subjects rather than having a full-time support role for children with additional needs in mainstream education," said Ms Williams.

A spokesman for the council said that two years ago, the authority had reviewed its formulae for primary and secondary teaching staffing to include learning support, deprivation and behaviour support, linked to roll change. "The council values the role of all staff in supporting children and young people with additional support needs and continues to allocate resources appropriately and review on an ongoing basis to ensure best value," he added.

In East Renfrewshire, parents have told the trust that there are not enough pupil support assistants for children in schools. They also fear that the next financial year will bring further cuts to pupil support staff. "These parents rightly question the benefit of their children being in mainstream education where not all will have access to additional classroom support," said Ms Williams.

But a spokesman for East Renfrewshire Council said: "It is grossly unfair to present this as the norm in East Renfrewshire when at best it may represent one particular person's viewpoint. There is a range of support mechanisms in place in schools and in our education service to support pupils with autism and each child is assessed individually."

In Glasgow, parents have complained that school staff lack understanding of autism, there are not enough inclusive activities and their children are bullied in school.

Jonathan Findlay, executive member for education in Glasgow, countered: "Ms Williams's comments are unjust and do not reflect the vast amount of work in the last year alone Glasgow has carried out to support children with autistic spectrum disorders."

Councils face a reduction in funding of some 12 per cent over the next three years. The first draft budgets to be published by councils appear to confirm Ms Williams's fears:

- North Lanarkshire Council, which is facing a pound;75m deficit, plans to cut three additional support needs teaching posts, a saving of pound;80,000 - one of a number of measures;

- Moray Council plans to cut its allocation of additional support assistants and teachers by 5 per cent to save pound;340,000; the council acknowledges in its budget consultation document that cuts would have a "severely detrimental impact" on children with ASN.

Children's Minister Adam Ingram told the committee last week that, if councils were cutting down on classroom support, this was "short-sighted". He announced the setting- up of a working group to "identify, share and disseminate" best practice in working with autistic children and adults.

Following the meeting, however, Labour MSP Ken Macintosh accused Mr Ingram of burying his head in the sand. Support for ASN children in his own constituency - East Renfrewshire - had worsened over the past year, he said.

Autism passport, page 14.

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