Campigners call for an extra £70m to ensure children with additional support needs actually get it.
The idea that every child should attend a mainstream school – regardless of whether they have disabilities, learning difficulties or behavioural problems – is a laudable one.
Scotland should be proud that 95 per cent of children with additional support needs (ASN) attend schools just like everyone else their age.
But such children do, quite obviously, need additional support and that has to be paid for.
If they are not getting they support they need, that is, most importantly, a problem for them. If they end up being taught in a segregated class and having different break times to the other pupils, it rather defeats the purpose of being in a mainstream school. A lonelier education is hard to imagine.
But it can also be a problem for teachers, particularly if they have not been given sufficient training, and for classmates if a child gets upset or becomes disruptive in some way. A coalition of groups involved in children’s services is now sounding the alarm over falling amounts of money being spent on additional support – down 11 per cent in just three years – amid a rise in the numbers of ASN children in mainstream schools of nearly 50 per cent in six years. These groups say that about £70 million is needed to ensure ASN children are given the support they need. One head, Kenny Graham, of Falkland House School, said families with ASN children were facing an “uphill struggle” to get additional support because of the combination of rising numbers and falling budgets.
That is simply not good enough. As Mr Graham quite rightly said: “Mainstreaming should not simply mean entering the gates of a local school.”
The Scottish Government cannot continue with a policy it is not prepared to fund properly.
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Doubtless reversing it would result in negative headlines if children ended up being sent back to specialist institutions.
That might even end up costing more money. But it would be better than the current situation appears to be. However, £70m does not seem like a huge amount of money to ensure the current admirable policy can continue.
Austerity has produced many tough choices and councils have been particularly hard hit.
But ensuring our most vulnerable children have a place in society and are looked after properly is surely a priority.