TEACHING assistants are in a "state of shock" according to their union following plans to reduce support for special needs children in Gwynedd.

Public service union UNISON says that Nursery teaching assistants are concerned that Gwynedd Council's plans to restructure the ABC service will significantly reduce support for three and four-year old children with special needs.

Five ABC units in the county provide special needs for children with a minimum of ten support hours a week to help them prepare for school.

According to UNISON Gwynedd Council plans aim to cut one teaching assistant from each unit and close the units in the afternoon, sending the teaching assistants into schools.

UNISON says currently teaching assistants can support up to four children in the units each afternoon, but as visits to schools often involve only one child per staff member, the number of children supported could be cut from 24 to as few as five for afternoon sessions.

It is feared that teaching assistants may be made redundant or face significant travel time to schools in the afternoon in a large, rural county – something UNISON argues, the council has not taken into account.

The trade union says time spent travelling is time lost working with children and claims there is a question about how staff would be reimbursed for their travel.

Wendy Allison, UNISON Cymru Wales regional organiser said,

“Teaching assistants are in a state of shock.

"They are praised by parents for their good work and cannot understand why the council would undermine the service they provide.

“The proposals are ill-thought out, weak on detail and fail to consider the impact on vulnerable children, their families and staff. Senior managers haven’t listened to the warnings of the trades unions.

“UNISON wants these damaging proposals to be shelved and the excellent support provided to some of the most vulnerable children in the county to continue."

A Gwynedd Council spokesperson said: “Gwynedd Council is responsible for the Early Years Observation and Assessment Units (ABC Units) in Gwynedd and Anglesey, which assesses three and four year-olds with additional educational needs before they start full-time school.

 “The aim of the service is to give a better picture of the child’s needs so that they get the support that they require as they transfer to full-time education.

 “Following the introduction of the new Additional Learning Needs Act by the Welsh Government and developments within Gwynedd Education Authority, the ABC Units are to be restructured.

 “The change means that the units will be open for more regular hours (ie every morning) for the children who have the greatest needs, then the specialist staff will be released in the afternoon to visit children whose needs are less intensive in their own schools.

 “In the case of the Meirion Dwyfor area, there will be more flexibility to the opening hours of the units, as required.
 “This change will mean that staff in mainstream schools receive extra training and up-skilling, so that pupils with additional needs have the right support.

"Therefore more children will have access to Additional Learning Needs and Inclusion services (ALN and D) than at present, closer to home, with fewer children having to travel for the support that they are eligible for.

 “In practice, this means that the Gwynedd and Anglesey ABC team will follow the same structure as the other ALN and D teams and it is not anticipated that there will be a significant staffing changes.

"From time to time a temporary increase in ABC staffing will be needed due to demand, and the Education Authorities can be flexible with this.

 “The proposed structure follows a series of consultation events held between 2016 and 2019, namely:  with stakeholders from various sectors in early years education (including external and third sector agencies, elected members, teaching staff and assistants, SNAP); with relevant Local Authority officers; ABC Centre staff;  formal consultation process with staff since February 2019.

“Under the new arrangements: senior teacher is to be appointed to lead observation and assessment; senior educational psychologist to work with the senior teacher;  a senior assistant will also be appointed to address the service’s outreach requirements and support the work of the units; closer working with the other ALN and D teams.

“In addition to responsibility for the unit’s pupils, specialist Teachers will work with 10-15 mainstream pupils, who are not in a unit, every day; the senior specialist assistant will be responsible for approximately 20 pupils with severe and complex needs. The specialist assistant will be responsible for between nine and 15 pupils.”