Exclusive:Redesign of schools and staffing by Scottish council in wake of pupil violence surge

Plans include new ASN spaces and a review of classroom assistant numbers

A Scottish local authority could make a series of changes to the way schools are staffed and structured in response to concerns about pupil violence.

Aberdeen City Council is thought to be the first in the country to order a review of local education services in the wake of the behaviour crisis.

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The redesign is also being proposed to ensure schools meet “the needs of the 21st century”, in light of the soaring number of pupils with additional support needs (ASN). It comes ahead of the publication of a national action plan on tackling school violence, which is due to be unveiled imminently by the Scottish Government and local government umbrella body Cosla.

Shocking levels of school violence were reported in Aberdeen earlier this year following a survey by the city branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) trade union.

The trend, which has been found across much of Scotland in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, comes amid widespread reports of increased pressures on schools as a result of the growing number of pupils with ASN and more complex needs.

More than a third of pupils in Scotland now have an ASN, rising to half in some areas. Following ongoing talks with trade unions, a series of changes were agreed at a meeting of the Aberdeen’s education committee this week to try to address the concerns.

It included a promise to “review the adequacy of the current allocation of pupil support staffing”, as well as a review of the provision of specialist placements across the city.

The Aberdeen plan also asks officials to “evaluate the physical ASN provision in individual settings”, and prepare a timetable for recommendations on “potential space for future ASN purposes”. It also orders officers to improve the way incidents in schools are recorded.

An investigation by The Scotsman recently highlighted how hundreds of schools, including many in Aberdeen, almost never report violent incidents, amid fears staff are discouraged, put off by the process or have lost faith that any action will be taken.

Meanwhile, demand for places in special schools has been soaring in some parts of the country due to a rise in the number of pupils with ASN, and concerns about mainstream settings.

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MSPs on Holyrood’s education committee have heard during a recent inquiry into additional support for learning (ASL) services that many school buildings are not suitable, including claims ASN pupils sometimes have to use cupboards and corridors.

Councillor Martin Greig, education committee convener in Aberdeen, said: “What we are doing is being creative and looking to redesign the services which we provide because we believe we can achieve better use, better outcomes by reviewing what we have, and targeting better the limited resources.

“It is not just a very straight-forward goal or demand for new resources. It’s also about trying to make sure learning environments are being adapted to the needs of the 21st century.

“There is considerable growth in a diversity of support needs for young people, and we need to have a better understanding of what that wide range and diversity represents.”

Mr Greig added: “Each pupil should feel a part of their school community, which requires serious consideration on the available resources and how we use them to create safer and more peaceful learning environments.” An action plan on addressing behaviour issues has also been prepared following consultation between Aberdeen City Council and trade unions.

In an official response to the action plan, the GMB union said: “There are positive actions coming out of this plan which the GMB support, namely the development of a generic staff risk assessment, which links to pupil centred risk assessments and is reflective of all the actions developed within the scope of the plan and our demands presented.

“This will be the golden thread which ties all the health and safety elements together, with the focus of a transparent and positive health and safety culture for employees within education reducing any ambiguity and fragmentation. The other main positive is the reintroduction of the exemplar school health and safety policy.”

In its response, the EIS said: “The current action plan has adopted several EIS-recommended strategies, such as revising behavioural policies, updating risk assessments, and enhancing staff training.

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“Despite these efforts, there are significant deficiencies within the plan, particularly its failure to address the need for additional resources that would enable a more inclusive environment, as highlighted by teachers.”



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