Cut in pupil support hinders schools' special needs effort

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
Policy has affected behaviour and differentiation

Aberdeen's decision last year to slash the number of pupil support assistants has reduced schools' ability to help children with less pronounced special needs and hampered key aspects of Curriculum for Excellence, a city council report has shown.

The ruling SNP-Lib Dem administration was defeated in a committee debate on the report's findings, with Labour opposition councillors demanding a fuller assessment of the impact of the cut by a third to the pupil support budget to save pound;2.5 million.

Council officials surveyed all primary and secondary schools, garnering 48 and 83 per cent response rates respectively.

Schools emphasised that the quality of their teaching and learning had been maintained, although one warned that any further cuts would have a "significant impact" on additional needs pupils as "we are only just managing at present".

More management time was being devoted to behaviour - a concern among primaries - and on risk assessments. The report's author, Sohail Faruqi, acknowledged that behaviour was "posing challenges for staff as a result of the reduction".

Some schools reported having to employ new staff who were less skilled and experienced.

A number of primaries said they had less flexibility to support children with less pronounced additional needs, in areas such as literacy and numeracy.

There were also concerns over a reduction in support for early intervention and, in some secondaries, "supporting individual children across their timetables".

"It is more difficult to support differentiated tasks within class without PSA support, which could impact upon pace and challenge," said one school.

Some schools had had to end schemes designed to support learning, such as behaviour or parent groups.

Staff development had been affected, too, with one school stating: "In terms of time to liaise with teachers, colleagues and access suitable training, this is limited."

This year's cuts, added to previous reductions, mean that Aberdeen has halved its number of pupil support assistants in recent years. But the city council report shows that spend per pupil in this area is still pound;322, compared with pound;278 in a comparator authority.

In a meeting last week, parent and religious representatives on Aberdeen's education committee ensured that an amendment by Labour's Jennifer Laing was passed, instructing officers to carry out a further educational impact survey and report back by the autumn.

Councillor Laing had been disappointed by the 55 per cent response rate to the survey, but the council said it had only been an initial report.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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