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Education service in ‘crisis’

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
Education service in ‘crisis’

A WORRIED teacher has made a passionate plea to council chiefs to protect learning assistant provision after the region’s education service was plunged into a “crisis” situation.

An increased demand for learning assistant hours in schools has led to this year’s budget being blown by more than an additional £500,000 – and children are also requiring unprecedented levels of support as a result of the effect covid lockdowns have had on their development and behaviour.

Julie Irving, a representative of primary teachers in the region, is extremely concerned that the current review of learning assistant staffing will lead to cuts and both staff and pupils being badly affected.

Speaking at Dumfries and Galloway’s education committee last week, Mrs Irving said that headteachers have already been using additional PEF (pupil equity fund) cash to “shore up” additional support for learning.

She said: “We’ve invested really heavily in our staff. So the fear is that, if these staff go, the teachers lose some of the support that they’ve had for those children.

“We’re already struggling because we know early intervention works. That’s what a lot of us use our PEF money for – it’s to get that early intervention in.

“I’m trying to get across to you how important our support staff are to each school as part of their community.

“That’s why this (review process) causes such big issues because we’re invested personally with our staff. Not just on that professional, trained level, we are a community and we work well together.

“So, when you hear someone is going, it’s quite traumatic. Some of our staff, support assistants, have been in our schools 15 plus years.

“It’s a huge issue for their mental health, never mind the rest of the staff.”

The education committee debate on the issue lasted almost 90 minutes, and the key issues were a lack of money available to support learning assistant staffing, along with “increasing pressures” on the additional support for learning provision.

It had already been revealed last year that one in three youngsters are now identified as having additional support needs in class – compared to below one in ten a decade ago.

Lochar Councillor Linda Dorward said: “It’s very clear that we are in a crisis situation in terms of provision for our children and young people.

“It’s quite shocking that funding has been withdrawn for this, even when the Scottish Government recognise they’re in a worse situation than they were before covid.”

She added: “We don’t have the funding and we need to look very urgently at where we’re going to find that.”

Mel McGill, the parent council representative at the committee meeting, told councillors: “What you, as a council, can do is find more money to make sure that the service can do all that it can do to support young people.

“The team is amazing and they’re under so much pressure. Most of that pressure is because there’s not enough money.

“As a council you can give them more money. Get it from somewhere.”

Stranraer and the Rhins Councillor Willie Scobie said: “This is a huge issue for the authority, for this committee, and what I would like to see is a member-officer working group to do a deeper dive into this.”

A further report with more details on learning assistant staffing and financial pressures will be brought back to the committee in January.

Front, Moffat, News

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