The sign of a good school is one where every pupil has the right support, where their needs as an individual are met and not just the needs of the class as a whole. With one in four school pupils in Scotland having an identified additional support need, ranging from autism or dyslexia to English as a second language or a physical disability, making sure that individual support is there can be a challenge but it is absolutely essential.
Making sure that every child and young person gets the support they need is a priority for the Scottish Greens. In November 2016, we led a debate in the Scottish Parliament, drawing attention to additional support needs in our schools. We called on the Scottish Government to bring forward a budget which would reverse the loss of hundreds of specialist ASN teachers and support staff since 2010.
Decisions over schools and staffing are made by local councils and they get most of their funds from the Scottish Government, who were planning huge cuts in the 2017/18 budget. That is why in February 2017, we negotiated an extra £160 million funding for councils as part of our budget negotiations with the Scottish Government. These funds will help to offset the austerity that local councils have experienced over the last six years and can provide for additional investment in education when we desperately need it.
But why is additional funding required? Since 2010, the number of children with identified additional support needs has risen by about 100,000 to 170,000. This increase is largely down to a better understanding of conditions like autism and dyslexia which require additional support. Yet over the same period of time, the number of teachers with specific additional support needs training has dropped from 3,363 to 2,896 and classroom assistants have declined by a similar number.
There are fewer specialist teachers and support staff for more pupils with identified additional support needs. This leaves children with ASN unsupported. For example, a recent survey by Enable Scotland found that 70% of pupils with a learning disability do not feel that they get enough support from their teachers. This issue not only affects children with additional support needs, it means classroom teachers have less time to spend with the entire class as they are left with an impossible balancing act.
We have calculated that it would cost approximately £31 million to return additional support needs teachers and assistants to their 2010 level, and at least an additional investment of £30 to £40 million to account for the additional demand identified since then and we will keep pushing for the funds to do this in future budgets.
However, it is not just about making the resources available. Ensuring that all school pupils have their needs met means enhancing the role of additional support needs teachers. We have urged the Scottish Government to look into making additional support for learning a ‘promoted post’ in schools, just like in Finland. This would encourage more teachers to engage in formal additional support needs training as part of their career development and would attract and retain exactly the kind of skilled individuals we need to support young people with ASN.
The sign of a good school is one where every pupil has the right support and Greens at national and local level are working to ensure every school can provide that support.