ASN provision in Scotland under severe pressure

Date: 16th May 2017
Category: Inclusive education

The SCSC launched its manifesto ahead of the council elections, warning of a 'lost generation' of children and young people with additional support needs (ASN) if cuts in local authority budgets continue.

In its manifesto for the local authority elections, the SCSC called on incoming town hall administrations to put their needs at the heart of future policy commitments.

The manifesto includes a raft of measures, including a plea for increased funding in services dealing with children and young people with ASN, better training for those working in this field, professional independent advocacy for care experienced children and young people, and for an elected councillor to be appointed as 'mental health champion'.

ASN provision in Scotland is under severe pressure due to a raft of austerity cuts, and the SCSC has warned of a "false economy" in cutting services to these children and young people.

It has called on incoming council administrations to protect vital services for children and young people with ASN, such as those with dyslexia, autism, mental health problems, or are care experienced, and increase funding.

The manifesto notes that over 170,000 children and young people in Scotland's publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools are classed as having ASN, amounting to just under a quarter (24.9%) of pupils. This represents a 44% increase in the number of those identified with ASN since 2012.

However, since 2012 the number of specialist ASN teachers in local authority primary and secondary schools has fallen by 16%, from 2,146 to 1,799. The number of support staff, such as ASN auxiliaries or care assistants, and behaviour support staff, has fallen by 5%.

While the SCSC is fully in support of the presumption of mainstreaming, it has raised concerns that given these cuts vulnerable children and young people may not be getting the care and support they need in the classroom, with an impact not only on them, but on their peers and teachers.

It has called for these cuts in staffing numbers to be reversed, and that there is adequate resourcing provided to support mainstream, if that means a fully inclusive experience, supporting the closure of the educational attainment gap.

Other key recommendations in the manifesto include:

  • Increased specialist provision for children and young people: The educational needs of some children and young people with complex or specific needs, are better met in specialist settings. Local authorities must be assisted to increase the number of special school/unit places available, on a wider geographic basis, and these places may be provided by the local authority or independent sector,
  • Better training: There must be better training of mainstream teachers, social workers, health professionals and other practitioners, including continuing professional development, so that they can adequately support children and young people with ASN.
  • Greater partnership working: There must be greater partnership working between the public sector and independent and third sector service providers, so that the needs of the child or young person can be properly supported in the most appropriate setting.
  • Access to experienced counsellor: All secondary schools must have access to a qualified and appropriately experienced counsellor, providing support to troubled and/or distressed children and young people, including those with mental health difficulties. Currently Scotland is the only UK country with no national strategy for school-based counselling services. In Wales, where school counselling is entrenched in law, 86 per cent of children and young people who had access to a school based counsellor did not require onward referral to specialist help after the completion of an average of five counselling sessions.
  • Introducing a local health champion: Local authorities should elect one member as champion for mental health. Once a councillor becomes a champion, their role will then include raising awareness of mental health problems in the development of council policies and strategies and in public forums, leading discussions on mental health with NHS organisations in their local area, and speaking with schools, businesses and community groups about mental health.
  • Right to independent advocacy: Care experienced children and young people must have access to independent professional advocacy, ensuring that they make informed decisions on matters which affect their lives, and this must be made statutory.

Commenting on the manifesto, Kenny Graham from Falkland House School, a member of the SCSC commented:

"We are delighted to be launching our manifesto for these local authority elections. Councils are facing a difficult financial environment, but they play an absolutely vital role in meeting the additional support needs of children and young people.

"We urge incoming council administrations to put services that impact on vulnerable children and young people at the very heart of their policy commitments and look for them to increase funding for these.

"Failing to do so amounts to a 'false economy' because if their needs are not met they often go on to become a costly burden on society and the economy."