Falling investment in help for school pupils with additional needs risks creating a “lost generation” who fail to get the most from their education, a network of support groups has warned.
The number of pupils with complex needs such as dyslexia or autism rose by 16 per cent since 2013, according to the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), with more than a fifth of school children now reporting some form of additional support need.
However, the number of learning support teachers fell between 2010 and 2015 by 13 per cent from 3,363 to 2,936, and the number of auxiliaries and behaviour support staff dropped by 9 per cent over the same period, from 19,332 to 17,498.
Council spending on in-school support for pupils has fallen by 11 per cent since 2012, and funding for charities outside school has also fallen according to SCSC, whose members include learning support school Falkland House, plus Spark of Genius and Young Foundations, which offer residential care and employment opportunities to young people with additional needs.
The SCSC said many of the pupils requiring additional help come from lower income households and areas of deprivation, and warned that a decline in the number of support staff would make it “extremely challenging” for the Scottish Government to close the educational attainment gap between rich and poor.
The network has written to the Scottish Government and Scotland’s 32 local authorities, calling on them to “act with urgency, protect vital services and increase funding for children and young people with additional support needs” through education, social care and early years’ services.
It also called for better collaboration between councils and the third sector in order to “maximise limited resources”.
Stuart Jacob, director of Falkland House School, said: “Public sector cuts have already affected vulnerable children and families in Scotland, and against a background of welfare reform any further cuts will have a cumulative impact.
“The cost to society of these cuts in the long term will far outweigh any potential savings made today, and will hinder any efforts to close the educational attainment gap.
“This is why as a coalition we have written to the Scottish Government and all Scotland’s councils, urging them to protect and increase investment in services, or face the prospect of a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.
“By working closely in partnership with the independent and third sectors, councils can deliver the most appropriate care and support to vulnerable children and young people, resulting in the best possible outcome for them.”
Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “Cutting additional support needs staff lets down the young people needing help the most.
“It’s just not good enough for the Scottish Government to slash council budgets and then pass the blame on to those same councils for cutting vital staff.
“Scottish Greens are calling for additional support needs staffing to become a ‘Promoted Post’ to attract and retain more talented and experienced staff and for a reversal of these cuts, which would make that possible.
“Later this week we will use some of our parliamentary debate time to raise these issues and push them higher up the agenda.”
Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Every child in Scotland should get a world-class education with the support they need to make the most of their talent and potential.
“The brutal reality is that the SNP has doubled down on Tory cuts to Scotland, stripping hundreds of millions of pounds from local services, which has seen huge cuts to additional support needs staff.
“We don’t have to accept a lost generation. Labour won’t vote for an SNP budget which carries on the cuts to local education budgets.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was spending £88 million this year to ensure all schools were properly staffed.
“We continue to work with partners in local authorities to share best practice and build on the attainment improvements already made,” the spokesman said.
“This includes pupils with additional support needs gaining better qualifications and going on to more positive destinations after leaving school.
“The Scottish Attainment Challenge funding of £750m over five years will support schools in our most deprived communities to close the poverty-related attainment gap, and in the vast majority of schools this funding supports improvement in the quality and capacity of teachers.”