Published: 11/06/2017 09:23 - Updated: 09/06/2017 12:37

'Pupils being failed' by pressure on schools

CLASSROOM pressures are resulting in Moray not getting it right for any child, it has been claimed.

Rising pupil numbers, more children with additional support needs and tightening budgets are combining to cause the problem, according to Derek Ross, Independent councillor for Speyside Glenlivet.

At Wednesday’s meeting of Moray Council’s children and young people’s committee meeting – the first since the elections in May – members agreed to return £70,000 to the 2017/18 additional support needs (ASN) budget.

The money comes from a previous underspend caused through difficulties in attracting teachers to the area.

Members also gave the go-ahead for the additional support needs strategy to best meet pupils’ needs to be implemented across the area’s schools.

However Cllr Ross, a former teacher who is still involved with the EIS union, said: "Girfec – getting it right for every child – there’s a limit to what teachers can achieve, especially when class sizes get larger and children with ASN are increasing in number.

"It puts on an enormous amount of pressure, and instead of getting it right for every child we’re not getting it right for any of them."

Since 2011 the number of pupils in Moray with additional support needs has more then doubled from 1426 to 3336 in 2016, an increase of 132.5 per cent and higher then the national rise of 75.4 per cent. Cllr Ross asked what the increase in staffing numbers had been to cope with the increase in pupils with ASN, but was told there was none.

He added: "There is evidence in primary schools throughout Moray that ASN teachers are being used to cover absences in primary classrooms.

"Often this ASN teacher has prepared work for individuals or a group for that day and is taken out at short notice to cover in the primary classroom.

"I understand there are problems, but doing that hits the most vulnerable."

Cllr Ross said: "I believe in some cases staff have left the authority because of the stress they were under, and gone back into another authority where they’re not being taken for cover, or gone into secondary where they’re not being taken for cover so often."

He asked for a report identifying how often ASN teachers are used to cover absences in mainstream primary and secondary classes.

Laurence Findlay, director of education health and social car, said there were concerns over the issue and he was aware of instances were schools would have closed if support needs teachers had not covered mainstream classes all be it in extreme circumstances.

Sonya Warren SNP councillor for Buckie asked why children with exceptional support needs were only identified in primary one and recognised sooner.

Pat McLennan, inclusion manager, said the problem related to the children and young people’s act and the named parson scheme.

She added: "Health has responsibility for pre-school children, and there are great difficulties – particularly in some areas – of the health visitors actually being able to identify with the parents whether the child has an additional support need.

"I think there are parents who don’t wish their child to have an additional support need, and for the short time the health visitor has to visit the house (parents) are effectively able to mask the fact that the child has an additional support need.

"Then it only becomes apparent when they come into the school situation."

Susan Slater, the secondary school representative, reminded members the £70,000 was not increasing the ASN budget.

She said: "In reality what we’re looking for is to maintain the budget that we had in 2015/16.

"If as a committee we vote against the £70,000 remaining, what we’re actually doing this year is making a cut in an additional support needs budget that is quite clearly under a lot of pressure."

Mr Slater added that all education budgets were extremely tight, and in one department a principal teacher had to spent all of their budget on necessary training courses.

Information on the instances of ASN teachers taking mainstream classes will be reported back to members.

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