MSPs discover many councils failing vulnerable pupils

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A committee of MSPs has called on the Scottish Government to review funding Scottish state school pupils with additional support needs

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15th May 2017 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Councils across Scotland are failing to provide good-quality education for a quarter of school pupils, a group of MSPs has said.

The Scottish Parliament’s education and skills committee has hit out at the poor-quality of education for children with additional support needs (ASN) in many council areas.

It said the policy of inclusive education for youngsters with educational issues as learning disabilities, dyslexia or autism is often not functioning properly.

Over 170,000 children and young people in Scotland’s publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools are classed as having ASN, amounting to just under a quarter of pupils. This represents a 44% increase in the number of those identified with ASN since 2012.

A committee investigation into the issue heard from 100 parents from across Scotland with some harrowing first hand experiences.

Parents often have to fight for the rights of their children “every step of the way” in order to get additional support for them in schools. Parents from areas of deprivation have lower chances of ensuring their children get the support they need.

Charities in the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, such as Who Cares Scotland and Kindred Scotland, also gave evidence.

James Dornan MSP, convener of the education and skills committee, said: “The committee was overwhelmed with the response it got from parents, teachers and those who live and work with children with additional support needs. There is still widespread support for the policy of inclusion and we also heard about the positive difference support can make to children.

“But we also heard about what can happen when there is not the staff and support to help those most in need. For example there is a very real concern that some children feel more excluded in a mainstream school setting than they may have done in a special school.”

The committee has called on the Scottish Government to undertake a financial review as a basis to start discussions with local authorities on future funding. It also wants the government to look at any cultural barriers in some council areas to the policy of inclusion.

The report has also asked for a government review looking at the experiences of those with additional support needs to find out how widespread concerns raised by parents are.

Sophie Pilgrim, director of Kindred Scotland, said: “This is a wake-up call for the Scottish Government and local authorities. There is a crisis in the education system for those with ASN and unless we act now and invest in their education we are going to be left with a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.”

Section 15 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Etc Act 2000 provides a legal presumption that children will be educated in mainstream schools.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, however, argues that cut to education are undermining the success of this policy.

Pilgrim added: “There has been a 44% rise in the number of pupils with ASN since 2012, now standing at one in four pupils. However, the per pupil spend on those with ASN has reduced by more than £450 (11%), impacting on the number of ASN teachers and specialist support staff.

“As a coalition we are fully in support of the presumption of mainstreaming, however we have continually raised concerns that given these cuts many of these vulnerable children and young people are not getting the care and support they need in the classroom, with an impact not only on them, but on their peers and teachers.”

As ASN pupils more likely to come from low income backgrounds and areas of deprivation, their achievements have an impact on the Scottish Government’s desire to close the educational attainment gap.

The MSPs concluded the effective inclusion of children with additional support needs is integral to the success of the Scottish Government's Getting it Right for Every Child policy.

Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson, also spoke out on the issue. “The reality is that one in four children in Scotland have some kind of additional support need and at present, the education system is simply failing far too many of them - as well as other pupils and their teachers. This is the result of years of staff cuts, including over 500 ASN teachers and hundreds of assistants, as well as teacher training which is wildly inconsistent in preparing them to support young people with additional needs.

“I've been pushing the government on this issue for months now and after the damning evidence the education committee has received, they need to get on top of it immediately. These cuts and inadequate training doesn’t just affect those with ASN, they affect every child in the class as overworked teachers, without the knowledge they need, simply cannot deliver the education our young people deserve. Some of the £160 million Greens won for local services should be going towards tackling this but so much more is required. Our children and their teachers deserve it.”