Warning over lack of support for children with additional needs

Figures showed the number of pupils with ASN reached a record high of 259,036 in 2023.

Resources are lacking to support Scottish children with additional needs, say campaigners STV News

There is a lack of specialist teachers, support staff and resources to support record numbers of children and young people in schools with additional support needs (ASN), campaigners have warned.

Figures released by the Scottish Government on Tuesday showed the number of pupils with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems, reached a record high of 259,036 in 2023, representing 36.7% of the pupil population.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) said this represents a doubling in numbers over the past decade – the 2013 figures showed 131,593 children had additional support needs.

The body has called for an increase in resources to address the growing need which they say is having an impact on disruption and violence in the classroom.

There is a “lack of specialist ASN teachers, support staff and the resources needed” to support the rising number of children with additional support needs, SCSC said.

Concerns have also been raised over a declining number of pupils with complex needs receiving a co-ordinated support plan (CSP), despite reassurances from the Scottish Government that there would be no decline in the number of those receiving them.

CSPs are statutory education plans prepared by local authorities to identify and ensure the provision of services for children and young people with complex or additional support needs.

There has been a “significant fall” in the number of pupils with a co-ordinated support plan, the SCSC said, falling from 3,279 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2023, representing an almost 60% (59.8%) drop.

The number of children with additional support needs has risen. Getty Images

A spokesperson for the SCSC said: “While more children and young people are being identified as having ASN, this is against the increasingly challenging backdrop of a lack of specialist teachers, support staff and the resources needed to support them.

“This is having an impact in terms of surging levels of school violence we are witnessing.

“Increased support is critical, especially post the Covid-19 pandemic and the damaging impact this has had on many of our children and young people, exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, all of which is hitting the poorest, hardest.

“We are also concerned that despite an increase in the numbers of those with ASN, we are experiencing a decline in the use of CSPs, which are legally enforceable and designed to support those with the most complex needs.

“The Scottish Government, local authorities, health and other agencies need to work in collaboration with the private and third sectors to provide the necessary resourcing and support to address the needs of children and young people with ASN.

“They must also work together to ensure that those who are entitled to a CSP receive one.

“With those with ASN drawn disproportionately from poorer neighbourhoods, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap, they must get the care and support they need when they need it.”

In Holyrood on Tuesday, Scottish Labour’s education spokeswoman, Pam Duncan-Glancy, accused education secretary Jenny Gilruth of providing a “real lack of detail” on how to support ASN pupils.

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory education spokesman Liam Kerr said support for learning teacher numbers was declining amid the rising numbers of children with ASN.

Gilruth said: “It is worthwhile saying that we do have a record number of learning and support assistants in our schools and we have also supported that with £830m in 2021-22.

“We have also ringfenced additional funding of £15m every year to respond to the individual needs of children and young people and also that helps to support maintaining our record levels of investment in those areas.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to improving the experiences and outcomes for young people with additional support needs, which we have outlined in our Programme for Government 2023/24.

“While it is for local councils to determine the most appropriate educational provision, spending on additional support for learning reached a record high of £830m in the most recently published figures.

“The Scottish Government also invests an additional £15m per year to help schools respond to the individual needs of children and young people.

“We also provide over £11m in funding to directly support pupils with complex additional support needs and services to children and families.

“Ministers will work with teachers to provide additional professional learning opportunities while seeking work to build on the Additional Support for Learning Action Plan.”

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