FEARS have been raised that a move to cut the number of behaviour support assistants in schools will leave staff more vulnerable.

Parents and trade union officials have expressed concern over East Renfrewshire Council’s decision to reduce the number of specialist assistants working with troubled pupils from 28 to 21.

They spoke out after an incident at a Barrhead primary school last week in which a seven-year-old boy grabbed a knife and started threatening people.

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The child is reported to have picked up a blade that was being used to cut a cake in a staff room, with the school being placed in ‘lockdown’ as police were called to the scene.

Steven Larkin, East Renfrewshire branch secretary for the Unison trade union, believes reducing the number of behaviour support assistants (BSAs) will make it more difficult to protect the remaining staff from harm.

He told the Barrhead News: “The safety of our members is paramount and it is up to the employer to make sure our members are safe in their place of work.

“We believe these cuts will have a huge impact.

“The council had the ability to raise council tax further than they did but chose not to. They could have done that instead of agreeing to cuts.

“The chances of incidents like this one in Barrhead happening again in future will increase if these cuts happen.”

East Renfrewshire Council is to remove all classroom assistants from its primary schools from August.

The reduction in the number of BSAs at secondary schools will take place from next April.

Classroom assistants primarily undertake administrative and support duties for teachers and can directly supervise pupils, helping them to practice reading and go over homework.

BSAs support secondary school staff to manage pupil behaviour. Currently, four are allocated to each high school in East Renfrewshire.

A total of 68 school staff in a mixture of full-time and part-time posts are to be axed as a result of cost-cutting measures agreed in the council’s most recent budget.

The council has said there are no plans to cut support assistants who help kids with additional support needs.

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However, parents are calling on the local authority to scrap the education cuts and make savings elsewhere.

One mum, who asked not to be named, said: “There are a lot of kids in our schools who have really challenging needs and I worry about what could happen if there are fewer staff.”

Police confirmed no-one was injured during the knife incident.

A spokesman said: “At around 10.30am on Monday, May 13, police were called to a report of a school pupil in possession of a knife.

“Police attended and enquiries were carried out and advice and guidance were given.

“There was no-one injured. It was not a knife that was brought in by the child.”

A spokesperson for East Renfrewshire Council added: “When dealing with any matter, appropriate and proportionate action is always taken, in line with council policy.

“Incidents of this nature are extremely rare in our schools and, when they do occur, are taken extremely seriously.”

Council chiefs defend budget cuts

East Renfrewshire Council has defended the budget cuts it has proposed, insisting it had to take “tough decisions” when facing “a significantly challenging financial situation.”

A spokesperson said: “No savings have currently been implemented in relation to pupil support assistants, as these will begin to take effect from August 2019. Whilst classroom PSAs will be removed from primary schools, there will be no change to the number of PSAs specifically employed to support children with additional support needs.

“The number of behaviour support assistants (BSAs) in secondary schools will be reduced from 28 to 21, although this change is not due to be implemented until August 2020.

“At present, each secondary school is allocated four BSAs, irrespective of need or demand. Following the proposed change, which would still need to be confirmed at the next budget meeting in 2020, the remaining 21 BSAs will be allocated to schools according to pupil need, rather than at every school, in a much more targeted and efficient way.

“This will help to reduce the impact of these changes, as those schools most in need of this support may actually receive an increased level of staffing in this area.

“Following these changes, we will absolutely continue to ensure that the right level of support is available to the most vulnerable pupils in our schools.”

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