Does Scotland need to consider building more special schools?

Demand for places in ASL schools is likely to continue to rise in coming years

There has been much discussion in recent months around the Scottish Government's presumption of mainstreaming pupils.

This has been in large part due to evidence provided to Holyrood's education committee during its inquiry into additional support for learning (ASL), which is due to report soon.

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Much of the testimony has suggested there is broad support among the majority of school leaders, teachers and education officials for the principle under-pinning the inclusion agenda, but that schools need far more resources - including specialist staff, time and appropriate buildings - to make it work properly.

The views of parents of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) will vary depending on individual circumstances, but the data from Glasgow suggests more and more want their children to be educated in specialist facilities, rather than mainstream schools.

Glasgow has a higher number of these facilities than anywhere else in Scotland, but they are almost full.

It has been suggested a change in the thresholds for places in such schools, due to a surge in the number of ASN pupils and those with particularly complex needs, is causing a “great deal of upset and anger" among parents who are understandably anxious to ensure their child is educated in the most appropriate setting.

Officials say that it is often the case that pupils put forward for ASL schools end up thriving in mainstream settings. Many councils have also focussed on creating ASL units within mainstream schools.

However, with the number of ASN pupils seemingly rising every year, as with the complexity of their needs, it can be expected that the number of requests for places in specialist schools will continue to increase, with more families being left distraught at the lack of capacity.

It is clear ministers are unlikely to turn their backs on the presumption of mainstreaming any time soon.

Few are calling for a return to the “segregation” of the past, and even if they were, the financial and logistical implications would be immense.

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But a presumption of mainstreaming does not necessarily mean the country does not also need more ASL schools, and the staff to work in them.

The current trajectories in relation to more complex needs, and the growing demand from parents, suggest this is something Government and local authorities will need to consider going forward.



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