John Paul Holden: Vulnerable kids being let down

Some of Scotland's most vulnerable youngsters need additional support. Picture: John Devlin
Some of Scotland's most vulnerable youngsters need additional support. Picture: John Devlin
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REDUCING inequality in Scottish education has moved up the political agenda recently – as evidence of failures to provide for youngsters with additional support needs (ASN) continues to grow.

Last week, Glasgow’s Govan Law Centre released figures showing that, of 12,533 looked-after children, only 6,374 had been assessed for a co-ordinated support plan (CSP).

Under 2004 legislation, there is a presumption that Scottish children in care may have additional needs and that those who do should receive a CSP assessment.

Exam performance highlights the consequences of failure to carry out this duty. Only 12 per cent of vulnerable school-leavers secured one or more Highers at the end of 2013-14, compared with 59 per cent in the pupil population as a whole.

“Most children’s needs are well identified and met, but there are some children for whom we can do better and Govan Law Centre’s figures reflect this,” minister for learning Alasdair Allan said, adding that teachers and other council staff would shortly be invited to an “event” at which they would be able to share best practice.

Yet pressures on the ground cast doubt on whether good intentions will have any chance of making a difference.

As council budgets become more strained, permanent and supply teacher numbers are under increasing pressure.

Indeed, signs have emerged that, even if a CSP assessment is carried out, there is no guarantee of ASN support being delivered.

One Edinburgh supply teacher with nearly 20 years’ experience told me gaps in class cover had become extremely serious, with ASN teachers frequently re-assigned to fill in elsewhere.

“Parents often have to really fight for provision,” the teacher said. “It is these students who are both especially deserving and vulnerable.

“To take away the support for learning teacher is a real blow. The expertise of that teacher, in learning support and the strategies they will know, are lost, as they are often used for either general cover or in a subject other than their own. It is not unusual for a floundering student who relies on in-class support to become quickly off-task, disaffected and disruptive.”

Sharing of theoretical best practice on CSPs is all well and good but will mean nothing if shrinking staff numbers make it more difficult to ensure support plans are actually implemented.

Disturbingly, with pupil-teacher ratios rising in areas such as Edinburgh and East Lothian, and further austerity cuts on the way, there is no prospect of any let-up in the pressures undermining assistance for Scotland’s most vulnerable youngsters.