The crisis in Additional Support Needs in Highland: “Action This Day”
Earlier this week I attended a meeting in Nairn Academy to hear parents put their points across to the Highland Council about the Additional Support Needs (ASN) provision for their children.
What I heard parents saying about their experiences, and those of their children, was truly shocking. As a GP of 30 years’ service I have seen my fair share of trauma and despair, but to hear what I heard in Nairn was not something I thought I would ever hear in Scotland.
Let me be absolutely clear: this is not about problems with what teachers, pupil support assistants and all those others in school who support children with additional needs are doing.
So what is the problem? Put simply, it is that when Highland Council took the decision earlier this year to take millions of pounds out of the ASN budget over three years, it did not understand what the true impact would be on our most vulnerable children, their classmates, their teachers and their families.
And it seems that in seven years the Highland Council has never managed to properly cost the actual delivery of the support that its own ASN allocation model - issued in 2012 and updated in 2015.
This week I heard parents of children with complex and severe needs speak with great and moving eloquence about the real impact of the ASN changes on their children and others in the classroom.
I heard parents speak about how cutting ASN funds and posts did not just affect the children with additional needs, but every child in their class or school.
I heard parents ask why it was that Nairn Academy had lost nearly 30% of its ASN provision, yet other schools with near identical needs have seen little or no reduction.
I heard parents ask if Highland Council at Senior Executive level understood that cutting the ASN budget again in 2020, as planned, would result in devastation for many pupils, even more overwork for teachers, even more despair for parents, and ultimately risk young lives. And this last point is no exaggeration: one incredibly brave parent spoke about their child, a child that had attempted suicide - and you could see the fear on her face that if the further cuts go ahead her child might not survive the consequences. This is not theoretical stuff – it is people’s lives.
I fully understand the very difficult financial choices faced by Highland Council after years of systematic underfunding by the Scottish Government. But I simply cannot understand why the Council proposed such devastating ASN cuts - in the face of huge public opposition - without first checking properly that it knew what the real everyday consequences would be for us all.
It is abundantly, utterly, crystal clear to me that no further cuts in the ASN budget should be made, and that every effort – and I do mean every effort - must be made to reverse the cuts already implemented.
It is equally clear to me that every elected Highland politician, whatever their party or ideology, wherever they sit, must join together to petition the Scottish Government for the immediate restoration of fair funding for the Highlands. Right now, not at some vague future point.
And I will do everything I can to persuade the UK Government that the crisis faced by Highland schools - not just in ASN, but also in dealing with crumbling infrastructure like Nairn Academy - deserves immediate and decisive action. To that end I am copying this to Boris Johnson – today.
Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister during the Second World War, would have the most urgent matters and decisions stamped with the words “Action This Day” in red ink. ASN funding restoration in Highland schools deserves that treatment. We simply cannot wait any longer.
Your children cannot wait any longer.
Action This Day