Exclusive:'Intense pressure' on schools as one in two pupils in parts of Scotland have additional support needs

Scottish Parliament evidence lays bare the ‘increasingly challenging’ situation in nation’s schools

Scottish councils have warned of an “intense pressure” on schools as half of secondary pupils in some areas now have additional support needs (ASN).

Local authorities have laid bare the "increasingly challenging” balancing act they face trying to support a soaring number of ASN pupils, including a rise in those with more complex needs, amid an “extreme” squeeze on spending.

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And they said they were dealing with a “great deal of upset and anger” from parents who are often frustrated the provision on offer for their children does not meet their expectations.

Glasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John DevlinGlasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John Devlin
Glasgow high school pupils sitting exam. Image: John Devlin

Just more than a third of pupils in Scotland now have an ASN, with the number having almost doubled in a decade, but it is even higher in some areas.

In written evidence, Edinburgh City Council told Holyrood’s education committee that 43 per cent of primary pupils and 50 per cent of secondary pupils in the area are now recorded as having an additional support need.

The council has previously said the additional needs predominantly fall into three categories, the first being pupils who have English as an additional language, the second those with moderate learning difficulties, and the third being social and emotional behavioural needs.

Rising numbers across Scotland have been put down to better identification and recording, as well as worsening poverty and poor mental health, including in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Female Teacher Helping Pupil Using Computer In ClassroomFemale Teacher Helping Pupil Using Computer In Classroom
Female Teacher Helping Pupil Using Computer In Classroom

Most children in Scotland are educated in mainstream schools, following a move away from the previous practice of segregating youngsters with disabilities or differences from their peers. Ministers say the policy creates an increasingly “inclusive, empathetic and more just society”.

Last year, responses to a huge ‘National Discussion’ study, which reached 26,000 pupils and students, were clear there were "currently insufficient" resources, including staffing and specialists, to fully support all children and young people’s individual needs.

Holyrood’s education committee is investigating ASN provision and will meet today to hear from expert witnesses.

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The Scotsman reported last week the MSPs on the committee had been told by School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary head teachers and deputes, that the nation’s policy of sending most ASN pupils to mainstream schools had “not been entirely successful”, and was often leading to a “poorer” education for young people, due to insufficient resources.

It has now emerged AHDS, which represents senior staff in primary schools, ASN and early years facilities, said in its submission: “You would have to search for a long time to find a school leader/AHDS member who disagrees with the presumption of mainstreaming policy.

“However, virtually all would also agree that the policy has not been properly funded to meet its goals and as a result puts enormous strain on schools and can result in negative impacts for pupils with ASN and for their peers.”

Lack of sufficient support for ASN pupils has also been linked to the violence and behaviour crisis in Scottish schools.

One teacher told the committee: “The demands are endless, the workload is completely unmanageable. I was planning on handing my notice in at the end of this academic year due to the effects of the stress. However, the cost-of-living crisis has made me realise I have no choice but to stay. I am now working on survival strategies to protect my health.”

Newly-published submissions from local authorities similarly show widespread support for the idea of inclusion, but significant concerns about existing pressures.

Edinburgh City Council told the committee: “Mainstream schooling and, where relevant, special provision is under intense pressure as the thresholds between mainstream and specialist provisions is now significantly different.

"This difference is not widely understood or recognised within the legislation or with parents and is leading to a great deal of upset and anger on their part.”

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The council said the principles behind legislation ensuring the widening of access to mainstream education “must be celebrated and protected”, but the associated guidance and code of practice was “unhelpfully complex and challenging to implement”.

The local authority highlighted an increase in references to tribunals across Scotland, saying this “exemplifies the divide between the legislation and what can actually be provided and delivered in practice”. Education officers were said to be regularly subjected to “frustration, anger and disappointment on the part of parents who have high expectations of what should be available to meet the needs of their child”.

Many school buildings were also said by the council to be “not supportive for children and young people” with ASN.

In recent weeks there have been reports in Edinburgh that a “significant number” of ASN youngsters are now being refused places in enhanced support learning hubs within schools.

Aberdeenshire Council, meanwhile, told the MSPs: “The extreme financial pressures faced by local authorities means that simply retaining existing ASN supports and services will be an ongoing challenge.

"The numbers of children and young people presenting with complex additional support needs are greater than ever before, and parental expectation of what local authorities should put in place to meet their children’s additional support needs are at an all-time high.”

In its submission, South Lanarkshire Council said: “The presumption of mainstreaming continues to be challenging as the complex additional support needs of children and young people have increased in number and range, requiring the skills, knowledge and expertise of teachers and support staff to be further developed.”

The council said newly qualified teachers were “not sufficiently trained in supporting children and young people with complex needs and the behaviours that present”, and many are “unprepared for meeting the range of children’s needs”.

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Requests for “home education” were said to have increased since the pandemic, which the council suggested “may illustrate that delivery of school education, in a traditional Monday-Friday, 9am-3pm is out of step with modern working and family life”.

Falkirk Council’s evidence to the committee said: “To continue best practice and flexible response to meeting children’s needs with the right support at the right time is increasingly challenging when demand increases and resources remain the same.”

The local authority said because learning support staff posts were paid less than other jobs in the marketplace, it was “hard to attract candidates to full-time permanent roles and is almost impossible to secure temporary and supply staff”.

Similarly, South Ayrshire Council said: “Our main barrier is the volume of need versus the resource and availability of skilled workforce.”

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

“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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