A special boy called Ryan could change the SNP’s attitude to austerity

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Green Party leader Patrick Harvie and an autistic child and his teacher. Picture by the National Autistic Society

By Bill Heaney

A wee boy called Ryan was at the centre of a heart-rending story told in the Scottish Parliament by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

The special five-year-old is just one of many children who are destined to suffer because of the SNP Government’s determination to impose austerity cuts.

Mr Harvie, who went to Dumbarton Academy and whose parents, Rose and Dave, live in the town is joint leader of the Greens.

And his party’s support will determine whether the SNP manage to get their austerity budget through parliament in April.

He revealed how, like MSPs across the chamber, he has been hearing from colleagues and constituents from around the country about the cuts that local councils are now having to contemplate –  and the devastating impact if councils are forced down that road.

Mr Harvie told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about Ryan, who has severe autism.

He said: “His mum wrote to explain that the family were happy when his nursery recommended sending him to a mainstream primary school, because the support that he needed was there”

She said that the first few weeks were challenging but she was amazed at how his social interaction improved— “he can now speak!

“He is very intelligent and we are very proud to be his parents and want to thank the school for all their input.”

But one day her husband was pulled aside by his teacher who told us that as of that day, Ryan’s support has been slashed from two hours per day to 2.5 hours per week!”

Mr Harvie said: “This is a young boy whose condition means that he cannot go to the toilet by himself. Now, in order for him to remain in school, his parents will have to go into his class twice a day to change him.

“Those two hours a day of support were essential to give him a chance to benefit from his education and to flourish.

“Ryan’s parents have been told clearly that the school can do nothing about the cut.”

Devastated, Ryan’s mum says: “Not only is this disappointing and stressful, we fear it will completely undo all the work that’s been done to give Ryan a routine.

“God forbid he has a bowel movement in-between the allocated changing times! This slash of hours affects all kids with support needs, not just our son.”

Nicola Sturgeon said she did not have all the details of the case and would refer the matter to John Swinney, the Education Secretary, with whom Mr Harvie could correspond about it.

She added: “The situation that Patrick Harvie describes does not strike me as acceptable. I know how important it is for children with special needs in mainstream education to have the appropriate support.”

But Mr Harvie told her: “I appreciate the offer to correspond. I understand that the First Minister does not know all the individual details, but the First Minister does know that—despite the number of children with additional needs more than doubling—there are 500 fewer additional support needs teachers in Scotland’s schools in 2018 than there were in 2010, because we have been making that case for a long time, as have others across the spectrum.

“That situation and others in local services will only get worse if more cuts are forced on our councils. ASN and every other local service will suffer. New ring-fenced funds for new policies that the Government imposes on councils will not make up for the cuts that are proposed to their core services.”

He said that since the Scottish National Party lost its majority, the Greens had been persistent in seeking positive changes to protect local services – “but we do not demand the impossible”.

He added: “The Government admits that there is an extra £500 million in the coming year’s budget because of the fairer tax plans that we persuaded it to adopt last year.

“Why, then, should we saddle our councils with a staggering level of funding cuts, which the First Minister knows will inevitably deny vulnerable pupils and many other people in Scotland the support they need?”

The First Minister replied: “The overall number of staff in schools who are working with children with ASN has increased. Obviously, teacher numbers have generally increased in the last couple of years, but I do not underestimate the pressures of dealing with children with special needs of that nature.”

On the budget point, she added: “We have put forward a draft budget. Patrick Harvie is right that resource is available in that draft budget because of the tax decisions that the Government has taken, but we have allocated that resource to the NHS and to local authorities—for example, for the roll-out of the doubling of childcare provision.

“If people want us to change our judgments about allocations in order to put more money into an area of the budget, there has to be a discussion about which area of the budget that money should come from. That part of the discussion cannot be avoided, because what is not in the budget is £500 million of unallocated resource. Every penny that we have available to us has been allocated.”

She said budget discussion had to be rooted in reality – “We cannot create money from nowhere. If more money is to go to one area of our budget, we have to be honest about where we are taking that money from.”

The reality for Ryan’s parents however could be running back and forward to their son’s school to take care of his toileting needs.

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