'Imploding': MSPs hear services for pupils with additional support needs are at 'crisis point' after years of cuts

Union official says ASN youngsters are being taught in ‘corridors and cupboards’

Support for children with additional needs is "imploding" after years of cuts and many youngsters are still being taught in "corridors and cupboards" in 19th century school buildings, MSPs have heard.

School staff representatives told Holyrood’s education committee that services were at a “crisis point” following a huge rise in the number of pupils with additional support needs (ASN), as well as increasingly complex needs, at a time when there has been a significant reduction in specialist workers.

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Just more than a third of pupils in Scotland now have an ASN, with the number having almost doubled in a decade, but the rate is as high as 50 per cent among secondary pupils in areas like Edinburgh.

A schoolboy sits in a classroom corridorA schoolboy sits in a classroom corridor
A schoolboy sits in a classroom corridor

The Scotsman reported on Wednesday how councils had warned that the rise in additional needs and their complexity, which is thought to have accelerated in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, is leaving schools under “intense pressure”, compounded by the impact of spending cuts over many years.

Susan Quinn, from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, told the MSPs enhanced specialist provision in schools was down by 23 per cent since 2016, while the number of specialist teachers within mainstream settings had reduced by 19 per cent since 2009.

Sylvia Haughney, education convener at Glasgow City’s Unison branch, said services were at “crisis point”.

She said: "I can’t give you a figure on what it would take to recover it all, because it is decades of cuts within the education budget.

"But what is education? It is not just held up by teachers or support staff, it’s the peripheral that holds up the education system for children, it’s the speech and language therapists, it’s the physiotherapists, it’s the occupational therapists and, crucially again, it’s the educational psychologists.”

Ms Haughney told the committee that Glasgow used to have one educational psychologist for every 80 pupils, but was now one psychologist in 698.

"So it is one in 700. I mean that is just imploding. That can not be sustained,” she said.

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"Yes, you keep your teacher numbers because that’s what the Government wants to put out, ‘oh but we’re not cutting teacher numbers’, but we’re cutting everything else that holds that system up. That money needs to be put back.”

Scotland has a widely-backed policy of sending most ASN pupils to mainstream schools, but Ms Haughney said many buildings were still not appropriate.

“More children are being educated out in corridors, in separate areas, in cupboards, in spaces that you can find within a school that are more adapted to their need,” she said.

"What we actually have now is 21st century children, with 20th century teaching styles, with 19th century, in some cases, buildings, that are not suitable.”

Peter Bain, president of School Leaders Scotland, said: "There is a common claim made right across the education community, that education and teachers have become the social workers, and are even verging on becoming health professionals,” he said.

"I’m not sure I agree with the second bit, but they are certainly taking on a social worker role, far more prominently than they used to be.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While it is for local councils to determine the most appropriate educational provision, the Scottish Government is committed to improving the experiences and outcomes for young people with additional support needs, and spending on additional support for learning reached a record high of £830 million in the most recently published figures.

“We have continued to invest £15 million per year since 2019-20 to help schools respond to the individual needs of children and young people. We also provide over £11 million in funding to directly support pupils with complex additional support needs and services to children and families.

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“Local authorities also have a statutory duty to manage their school estate – we expect them to provide appropriate learning environment for all pupils, including those with additional support needs. To support this, the Scottish Government’s £2 billion Learning Estate Programme will improve a number of ASN schools.”



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