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Independent Highland Councillors Move To Save Classroom Assistant Jobs

2nd June 2011

HIGHLAND Council's Independent Group held discussions aimed at removing the threat to classroom assistants. The main independent grouping are in coalition with the Lib Dems and Labour. The independents are calling for a 7 million underspend from the 2010/11 budget to be partly used to save the jobs of under-threat classroom assistants.

The local authority has managed to save 7 million on the projected budget despite controversial measures which cut jobs and services after it said it needed to save 17.5million over a two year period until 2012.

The council's surprise annoucement will be confirmed in a report to the Resources Committee on Wednesday which gives members a position on the revenue budget with the exact figure for 2010/11 presented to council on Thursday, June 23. But at a meeting on Thursday of the Independent group who make up the largest grouping in the administration and includes the education committee chairman Bill Fernie - councillors agreed to press for the money to be used to avoid threatened redundancies among class room assistants and also change the terms of the current review into their jobs to a more in-depth examination of support for pupils.

Independent councillor Audrey Sinclair, a member of the Working Group that has been looking into this issue, said: "It's not about stopping the review, but looking for a revised remit of the group that is not based on savings, but on the needs of our children.
"This means we are not being rushed into making decisions based on savings, when there is money around due to the under spend that can buy us extra time to continue look at this in a holistic way. We will be taking these proposals from the Independents to the meeting of the Working Group on Tuesday, 7th June."

Fellow Independent Councillor Jaci Douglas, also a member of the Working Group, added: "The current review came out of a budget line at February's council meeting. We have excellent, hardworking classroom assistants, much appreciated by parents and staff, and the Independent Group of councillors will support them.

"While I am not disputing that the current system of classroom support needs to be looked at, I have always been concerned that it had this budget saving hanging over it. Money from the under spend means that the task group can take more time with the review. As we move into the future with a new Curriculum for Excellence we must meet the support needs of all our children in the classroom, without being constrained by having to identify an immediate saving."

Independent Councillor Bill Fernie, chair of education committee, added "This proposal is about continuing with the much needed Review, but we need to take away the uncertainty that classroom assistants are feeling about their future. It will ensure time to modernise this essential role to achieve fair and equitable staffing for all our schools. Sometime ago in view of the coming budget pressures we asked our managers to begin as early as possible to start making savings ahead wherever possible so that we might achieve some flexibility and we now hope that there is a little that we can use in this instance."


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