An alliance of leading independent and third sector services providers in Scotland is calling for greater resourcing for children and young people with additional support needs (ASN) after new figures revealed their numbers have rocketed while those of specialist teachers have fallen.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) says the Scottish Government and local authorities must act to adequately support pupils with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems.
The figures, from the annual Scottish Government pupil census, show that between 2012 and 2017 the number of specialist teachers supporting pupils with ASN fell by 15.9% to a new low of 2,733.
Over the same period the number of pupils with ASN rose by 55.5% to 183,491 — 26.6% of all pupils.
Over the five years the number of pupils with mental health problems rose by 165%, physical health problems by over 77%, autism spectrum disorders by over 73%, social emotional and behavioural difficulties by over 68% and those in care by 48%.
The SCSC acknowledges that the increase is partly due to improved recognition, diagnosis and recording. However, it says the growing gap between the number of pupils with ASN and the number of specialist teachers undermines Scotland’s ‘presumption of mainstreaming’.
Stephen McGhee from coalition member Spark of Genius, said:
It is clearly positive to see that we are becoming increasingly good at identifying and recording those with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia, mental health problems and learning difficulties.
Children and young people with ASN represent some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised members of our society. They have poorer educational outcomes, are more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded, and are less likely to go on to positive destinations when compared with those with no ASN. This impacts not only on the individual concerned, but also has a resulting cost to both the economy and society.
It is vital that in order to prevent this that those with ASN get the care and support they need, which is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly challenging in an environment of austerity and budget cuts, with evidence of cuts in the number of ASN teachers.
While we also support the presumption of mainstreaming — that all children and young people be educated in a mainstream educational environment unless exceptional circumstances apply —it is clearly difficult to see how this is functioning properly for all those with ASN given this fall in specialist support and increase in the number of those with conditions such as autism and mental health problems.
The Scottish Government and local authorities need to work together to provide the necessary resourcing to address the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.