'Lost generation' warning over children with support needs

primary school pupils in classroom

Scotland faces a "lost generation" of children with additional support needs (ASN) if funding cuts continue, a network of support groups has claimed.

The Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC) said the number of pupils with ASN had increased by more than 16% since 2013.

This was as the number of learning support teachers was falling, it said.

The group warned a lack of action would make closing the educational attainment gap "extremely challenging".

The Scottish government said it continued to work with partners in local authorities to build on the attainment improvements already made.

It also said it was spending £88m this year to ensure every school had "access to the right number of teachers".

'Act with urgency'

Last year, more than a fifth of school pupils were recorded as having some additional needs such as dyslexia or autism, with many coming from lower-income households and areas of deprivation, according to SCSC.

However, the number of learning support teachers fell by 13% to 2,936 between 2010 and 2015, while the number of auxiliaries and behaviour support staff dropped by 9% to 17,498 over the same period.

SCSC said funding for charities outside school had also fallen.

Its members include learning support school Falkland House, Spark of Genius and Young Foundations, which offer residential care and employment opportunities to young people with additional needs.

The group said it had written to the Scottish government and Scotland's 32 councils calling on them to "act with urgency, protect vital services and increase funding for children and young people with additional support needs" through education, social care and early years' services.

It also called for better collaboration between councils and the third sector in order to "maximise limited resources".

Attainment funding

Stuart Jacob, director of Falkland House School, said: "Public sector cuts have already affected vulnerable children and families in Scotland, and against a background of welfare reform any further cuts will have a cumulative impact.

"The cost to society of these cuts in the long term will far outweigh any potential savings made today, and will hinder any efforts to close the educational attainment gap."

He added: "This is why as a coalition we have written to the Scottish government and all Scotland's councils, urging them to protect and increase investment in services, or face the prospect of a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people."

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "We continue to work with partners in local authorities to share best practice and build on the attainment improvements already made.

"This includes pupils with additional support needs gaining better qualifications and going on to more positive destinations after leaving school.

"The Scottish government is spending £88m this year to make sure every school has access to the right number of teachers.

"The Scottish Attainment Challenge funding of £750m over five years will support schools in our most deprived communities to close the poverty-related attainment gap and in the vast majority of schools this funding supports improvement in the quality and capacity of teachers."

'Brutal reality'

Scottish Labour's inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon said every child in Scotland should receive a "world class education with the support they need to make the most of their talent and potential".

She added: "The brutal reality is that the SNP has doubled down on Tory cuts to Scotland, stripping hundreds of millions of pounds from local services which has seen huge cuts to additional support needs staff.

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: "Cutting additional support needs staff lets down the young people needing help the most.

"It's just not good enough for the Scottish government to slash council budgets and then pass the blame on to those same councils for cutting vital staff.

"Scottish Greens are calling for ASN staffing to become a 'Promoted Post' to attract and retain more talented and experienced staff and for a reversal of these cuts which would make that possible."

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