Stuart Jacob: Spare special needs children

Children with conditions such as ADHD are more likely to be excluded from school
Children with conditions such as ADHD are more likely to be excluded from school
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AS WE progress through the festive season we should spare a thought for local authority chiefs, faced with the unenviable task of assessing the fall-out from the Scottish Government’s budget and the decision to cut revenues by £350 million in the forthcoming financial year.

As they continue with the process of setting their own budgets, we are facing the prospect that the jobs of specialist teachers, support staff and others working in our schools are at further risk of being cut. According to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the financial implications of the budget will lead to some 15,000 jobs being lost.

Budget cuts will have the biggest and most detrimental effect on the quality of support provided to children with Additional Support Needs (ASN), who require specialist teaching and resources.

The most recent government figures released show that 22.5 per cent of pupils in Scottish schools are recorded as having ASN. That is more than one in five of the pupil population. These children may have a condition which proves to be a barrier to learning such as autism, learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD and those with care experience. This represents one of the most disadvantaged groups in our society.

We are now facing a desperate situation where we have high numbers of children in schools identified as having ASN but with the potential for vital resources to be cut further. If we are genuinely to deliver social justice and tackle inequality, closing the educational attainment gap, we must ensure that this group is adequately supported and resourcing to them is protected.

Children with ASN have a considerably higher exclusion rate than the rest of the pupil population – more than four times that of those pupils with no ASN – and teachers already struggle to provide the services each individual pupil requires.

These children often find it harder to understand traditional teaching methods unless they receive specialist help, so we must ensure that children with ASN are given every opportunity to succeed. A proper and rich education is vital to the success of any child’s future and it is fundamental to a successful and prosperous society that we ensure that all children receive a meaningful education, and no child struggles in school because they have ASN.

The costs of failing to adequately support children and young people with ASN far outweighs any savings made from budget cuts. These children are already at a disadvantage and are less likely to go on to positive destinations, such as further and higher education and employment and training.

Any reduction in funding to support children with challenging behaviour has the potential to result in severe disruption to mainstream classes, with teachers, heads and deputy heads drawn into managing fraught situations.

We also need to address the impact of children and young people with life limiting conditions living much longer due to medical advances and occupying places in special schools. New evidence from the Children’s Hospice Association indicate that the number of children and young people in Scotland with these condition has risen “markedly” from 12,039 (2009/10) to 15,404 (2013/14). Many of these children and young people will be educated in a special school environment putting great pressure on school ­places.

This is then tipping children with challenging behaviour into mainstream schools, helping to explain the extreme pressure on Scotland’s schools and Additional Support for Learning (ASL) resources. Without adequate support we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb and the results will be devastating to society, pushing vulnerable families to the brink and costing our economy dear.

In times of austerity it is the most vulnerable who are often the victims. It is therefore absolutely crucial for local authorities, in the face of budget cuts, to unconditionally protect funding for services to children and young people with ASN, providing the support that this group so desperately need.