John Swinney has been told that at least £70.2 million extra needs to be spent on educating youngsters with additional support needs (ASN) this year to support them properly at school.
Children’s campaigners claim the extra funding is urgently required as they highlighted major concerns over the way ASN youngsters are being educated against a background of public sector cuts.
The concerns have been outlined in a document produced by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), an alliance of independent and third sector children’s service providers.
The document has been produced for a Scottish Government consultation on guidance recommending that all children should be educated in mainstream schools, except in exceptional circumstances.
The document contrasts the dramatic rise in numbers of ASN pupils in Scotland at a time when spending by local authorities on additional support for learning has decreased.
Teachers have complained that the lack of cash and staff devoted to helping ASN children leads to disruption in the classroom, which leads to rising stress levels and has a detrimental effect on the education of youngsters across the board.
The SCSC document said that since 2012 the number of pupils in mainstream primary and secondary schools with ASN has risen by 47.3 per cent, from 111,058 to 163,594 (24.1 per cent of pupils).
At the same time, the number of ASN auxiliaries and behaviour support staff, has dropped by three per cent over the same period, from 16,377 to 15,880.
Moreover, average per-pupil spending by local authorities on additional support for learning (local authority primary, secondary and special education), has fallen from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,817 in 2015/16, amounting to £459 per pupil and representing an 11 per cent cut.
Yesterday the SCSC calculated that Scottish Government cash of at least £70.2 million is needed this to bring the amount invested back up to 2012 levels of support.
The requirement to provide education in a mainstream setting for children and young people with ASN, including physical disabilities, learning difficulties and social, emotional or behavioural problems, has been in legislation since 2002.
The coalition said it supported mainstreaming as a central pillar of inclusive education. But it emphasisedd that a severe lack of resources was preventing mainstream schools being able to fully support pupils with ASN. The coalition also highlighted that local authorities must be assisted to increase the number of special school/unit places available, reflecting the rising numbers of children and young people with complex or specific needs.
Kenny Graham, Head of Education at Falkland House School and coalition member, said: “Many families face an uphill struggle when trying to get additional support for their child in a mainstream environment. We have seen increasing numbers of those being identified with additional support needs, set against the background of reduced numbers of specialist teachers and support staff.
“A presumption of mainstreaming is also challenging in that, especially for children with ADHD, autism, and Tourette’s, many teachers lack the proper training in how to identify these conditions and in how best to support the child.
“Mainstreaming should not simply mean entering the gates of a local school. It should mean inclusion in the aspiration of a mainstream curriculum with all the positive experiences and outcomes that should entail, regardless of where that school is. It should mean inclusion in a school community that supports real development and growth, not education in a segregated class with alternate break times. It should mean good mental and emotional well-being.
Mr Graham added: “If we are to deliver genuine inclusion then that means providing the necessary resourcing to ensure the needs of all children, whether they have ASN or not, are met in the classroom.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “As the SCSC recognise, education authorities have a duty to ensure that children and young people who have additional support needs get the support they need to achieve their full potential. Now that 95% of children with additional support needs are educated in mainstream schools, with all teachers providing support, it is inaccurate to only single out ‘support for learning’ teachers.
“We will carefully consider all the responses to our consultation along with research into the experiences of pupils, their families and those who provide support in schools which will conclude later this year and will inform the final guidance.”