Warning over additional support teaching
The ability to teach children with additional support needs (ASN) in mainstream Scottish schools is under threat, the country's largest teaching union has claimed.
The EIS union said cuts to the number of ASN teachers meant pupils' needs were not being met as well as they should be.
And it said ASN teachers were reporting a lack of equipment and resources.
The employment of support staff is the responsibility of local councils.
A wide range of factors can lead to children having a need for additional support, including learning difficulties, family circumstances, disability or health needs, and social and emotional factors.
The most recent figures showed there are currently 170,329 pupils with additional support needs in Scottish schools, of whom 162,034 were in mainstream schools.
Children classed as having additional support needs now make up a quarter of the total number of pupils in mainstream schools - with the figure having increased dramatically from 98,523 over the past five years.
However, figures published last year showed ASN teacher numbers had fallen 13% between 2010 and 2014 to 2,963, while overall teachers numbers fell by 2.3% to 50,814 in the same period.
ASN teacher numbers also dropped in 22 out of Scotland's 33 local authorities over the same period.
The EIS said it supported the principle of inclusive education, but warned that cutbacks meant some ASN teachers feared it was being done "on the cheap".
General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "Members working with pupils with additional support needs have reported that the current climate is extremely challenging.
"Cuts to ASN teacher numbers have meant these teachers having very high workloads and feeling unable to meet pupils' needs as they would wish to.
"There is also an undervaluing of ASN teachers' skills and experience and the EIS has heard reports that ASN staff are often being used as supply cover - especially as the national difficulty in securing supply teachers has worsened."
'Stressed and struggling'
Mr Flanagan said ASN roles were being "de-professionalised", with assumptions made that "this is work that any teacher can do".
He added: "ASN teachers are reporting a lack of equipment and resources, which makes their day-to-day work more difficult. Some schools no longer have any one-to-one support for pupils with ASN, or have no specialist services.
"ASN teachers are stressed and struggling due to the cuts and the inclusive educational environment we all support is being stretched to the limit.
"Those who are making these cuts should be aware of the damage they are causing."
The Additional Support for Learning Act requires education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils.
The Scottish government said it wanted all children and young people to receive the support that they need to achieve their full learning potential.
A spokeswoman added: "We have a positive picture of children with additional support needs consistently achieving more each year.
"Our most recent statistics and report to parliament on the implementation of the legislation indicates that attainment levels continue to improve.
"Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting."
But opposition parties claimed Scottish government cuts to council budgets were making the situation worse.
Labour's education spokesman, Iain Gray, said: "Like all staff working in our schools, additional support needs teachers are feeling the brunt of a decade of SNP cuts and mismanagement.
"Additional support needs teachers require support and extra resources so they can provide the best education for some of our most vulnerable young people, yet the SNP's budget will cut a further £327m from schools and other local services next year."
And Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said: "ASN teachers and support staff have been cutback and overworked as councils struggle to cope with years of reduced funding from the Scottish government.
"Instead of distracting us with unwanted governance reviews, assessments and league tables, Scottish Ministers need to make ASN their top education priority. Giving young people the support they need is the best way to improve attainment."