School cuts ‘hit special needs kids hardest’

Chris Heggie and his son Dylan. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Chris Heggie and his son Dylan. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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CUTS to schools spending will hit vulnerable Edinburgh pupils with special needs twice as hard as those without, critics have warned.

Professor Ben Paechter, assistant dean at Edinburgh Napier University, said all of the Capital’s children will suffer as teachers are forced to shoulder the workload created after £1.06 million is slashed from schools’ additional support needs (ASN) budgets.

The proposed cuts would hit children with a wide range of learning support needs – from those with conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome to pupils who speak English as an additional language and youngsters taught in hospital.

Prof Paechter – whose own son has Asperger’s and attends James Gillespie’s High – has calculated the cuts will mean a “per child” impact on Edinburgh’s most vulnerable youngsters which would be double the average effect of £16m in total savings across the children and families department over the next four years.

He was joined by union leaders and parents, who said school staff were “stretched to breaking point” and warned of “double-digit” job losses.

And leaders at Kindred – a voluntary organisation based at the Sick Kids Hospital and run by parents and carers of children with additional support needs – said they would launch a campaign against the cuts, while warning education chiefs were close to breaking the law on ASN provision.

Prof Paechter – number two at Edinburgh Napier’s faculty of engineering, computing and creative industries – said: “A society, or council, should judge itself by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

“Not providing adequately for growth in demand for special school provision, and not providing adequately for 
additional support needs in a mainstream setting, will result in additional pressures in every classroom and disadvantage to all children in Edinburgh.”

Education chiefs have proposed cutting nearly £600,000 from additional needs support budgets through a “significant” management re-structure, as well as an unspecified reduction in posts.

Further savings of around £460,000 would be achieved through staffing cuts and other changes in IT assistance for children with additional needs, as well as reductions to funding for specialist support in mainstream schools.

Kindred leaders warned education bosses could face a flood of tribunals.

Sophie Pilgrim, director, said: “The council is in danger of failing to provide adequately under the Additional Support Needs legislation.

“These children, therefore, are not being provided with an education that meets their needs – hence the danger of ASN tribunals. Every parent knows what it is like for their child in mainstream to have to cope when there is a child with additional needs in the class who is not adequately 
supported.

“It is really quite outrageous that the council is making these proposals while speaking about early intervention and trying to bring down the rapidly rising numbers of looked after children.”

Union leaders said it was difficult to see how frontline job losses could be avoided.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said: “There is the potential for double-figure job losses – given the degree of the budget cut, that’s my fear.

“If you don’t have the support staff then the role they perform has to be taken on by the teacher. And if it’s performed by the teacher then that’s taking away from the job they’re already doing, which is supporting other kids.”

Education leaders insisted investment to be put into ASN over the four-year savings period would mean a rise in overall spending of 2.3 per cent.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Overall the council budget is being significantly squeezed, and we have no ability to raise additional revenue.

“However, we have published our draft budget five months in advance so the public can give us their feedback. We are engaging extensively with the public on our proposals but if people think our priorities are wrong or that they will substantially affect services, we want to hear from them as this is a two-way dialogue.”

‘I lay blame at council’s own door’

CHRIS Heggie, 50, whose son Dylan, ten, has Asperger’s and is on a low-dose course of Prozac because of stress caused by school work at Nether Currie Primary, said life had been made unbearable by inadequate classroom support.

He said: “The cuts have already been introduced by the back door – by not allocating audit support hours to individual children but giving schools responsibility for allocating them.

“I have to place blame at the council’s own door. Edinburgh council has wasted £1 billion-plus on an unpopular tram system and now they are trying to make children with additional support needs pay for their mistakes.”