An emotive protest met Highland councillors as they arrived for talks on education.
Campaigners laid out hundreds of children’s shoes to symbolise the number of pupils missing out on additional support at school because of budget cuts.
The council has promised to consult parents on reforms to the provision of Additional Support Needs (ASN) and pupil support assistants (PSAs).
Almost 3000 people have backed a petition, claiming damage has already been done.
Barbara Irvine of Highland Action Group for ASN and Education said: “A lot of children aren’t getting the basics – how to read and write.
“They’re losing a lot in the curriculum. A lot of people are taking their kids out of school to home educate.
“Many kids aren’t even in school but, as far as we know, Highland Council don’t even know those numbers.”
Council chiefs say reforming the provision is essential “to ensure the council has a delivery model in place which is agile and flexible to meeting the needs of young people and provide stability for staff.”
Highland education committee members were attending a “workshop” on Thursday to discuss the evolving new policy.
Consultation is promised before a final report is presented to the education committee in May.
ASN spending in Highland was more than £38million in 2018-19. That was an increase of 26% in six years.
Last year, the council agreed £4.6million of ASN savings in 2019-20, £2.7million in 2020-21 and £2.65million in 2021-22.
According to the latest available data, Highland has 966 PSAs.
That is 7.1% – the second highest in Scotland – of the total PSAs in Scotland.
The council, which consulted on its proposals between September 2019 and January this year, says ASN spending has increased year-on-year.
Feedback has already informed the council that “the current allocation does not fully take account of the needs of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural needs,” and that “the current allocation model is inflexible to changing needs across the Highland Council area overall.”
It found that the current system is “overly complex, not fully understood and not universally applied across all schools.”
The council intends to implement a new model from August 20.