FEARS have been voiced that children with additional needs may be unable to attend school if plans to cut support services go ahead.
Barbara Irvine, whose son Daniel Gourlay has autism, said if Highland Council pushes through proposals to reduce teachers, pupil support assistants (PSAs) and additional support needs (ASN) tutors, youngsters may not have the help they need at school – preventing them from attending.
Proposals which include the loss of 40 secondary school teachers and "significant reductions" in PSA and ASN teachers were revealed in a letter to head teachers from director of care and learning Bill Alexander, despite the number of pupils with level four ASN, the most severe, almost doubling in the last five years.
A review by the council has shown schoolchildren with additional needs who require level four additional needs, meaning they need one-to-one support, increased by 46.5 per cent from 454 to 849 between 2013 and 2017, while those with level three needs rose 14 per cent from 1228 to 1429.
As well as autism, Daniel (11) also suffers from pathological demand avoidance meaning he has high levels of anxiety and struggles with busy and noisy environments.
He attends Inshes Primary School in Inverness part-time but has not had access to full time education since he was six. Now his mum Ms Irvine has said even more children will end up in the same situation if the cuts are agreed.
"If normal teachers are left trying to support ASN kids as well as teaching the class it will be a sorry state of affairs. ASN children will either be so overwhelmed that they can’t attend school or they will misbehave because they’re stressed and overwhelmed and will end up excluded. There is supposed to be a duty of care for these children and that will go against it."
The council is looking to plug a £26 million budget black hole and last week senior councillors warned to expect job losses and cuts to front line services. The warning came as council leader Margaret Davidson and budget leader Alister Mackinnon travelled to London for a meeting at the Scotland Office on Tuesday, to ask for all or part of the local authority’s £200 million housing debt be written off.
People committee chairman Andrew Baxter said the council is working to find alternatives to the cuts but with huge savings needed it is unlikely that education can be protected.
"At the moment we have the highest teacher to pupil ratio in the country," he said. "I think the bottom line is that no councillor or officer wants to see any cuts to ASN or PSA or the impact that will have on schools across the Highlands.
"These are only proposals within the administration at the moment and we are all working extremely hard to find ways to avoid this cut."
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon (pictured) said if cuts go ahead, the council will reduce management and supervisor posts before front line staff. He said: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring these services can be delivered and protecting front line staff as much as possible."
But SNP group education spokesman Graham MacKenzie, a former head teacher at Dingwall Academy, urged the council not to go ahead with the cuts. "This is going to have a very significant impact," he said.