Additional Support Needs

Campaigning to improve support for children and young people with additional support needs

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition is campaigning to improve support for children and young people with additional support needs (ASN). To achieve this, we are seeking the increased provision of a wide range of high-quality, well-resourced and easily accessible services, tailored to their individual needs.

Additional support may be required if children and young people, for example, have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD), learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mental health problems, are care-experienced or encounter adverse life events such as bereavement.

Those with ASN are disproportionately drawn from poorer neighbourhoods. They also experience poorer educational and employment outcomes than those with no ASN.

Increasing numbers of those with ASN

The Scottish Government’s annual pupil census indicates that in 2023, 259,036 children and young people in Scotland’s publicly funded schools were identified with ASN. This represents around a third of all pupils (36.7%), of which 56.5% are boys. The number of those identified with ASN has been increasing for years, an almost doubling (96.8%) since 2013 (from 131,593 pupils).

Reasons for the increase include better identification and continued improvements in recording those with ASN. Additionally, growing levels of poverty, rising levels of poor mental health, and social, emotional and behavioural issues have also contributed to this escalation. 

An increasing number of children and young people with ASN has a potential effect on the outcomes of the individual concerned. This often causes distress to both them and their families or carers, also impacting the economy and society.

Early intervention and greater support

We are campaigning to ensure that those children and young people with ASN get the care and support they need when they need it, seeking the increased provision of a wide range of well-resourced services to achieve this.

These services include support provided by teachers (including ASN teachers) and school support staff, such as pupil support assistants and educational psychologists; mental health professionals, and other specialist staff. They are delivered by local authorities, health services, and voluntary and private sector service providers. 

A lost generation of vulnerable children and young people

Under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended), education authorities have a statutory requirement to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of children and young people for whose education they are responsible.

However, while there has been an increasing demand for support for those with ASN, this is against a backdrop of inadequate resourcing and staffing of services. Along with delays in identification, assessment and intervention, many children and young people with ASN are missing out on the care and support they so vitally need. The impacts on those with ASN have been aggravated further by rising levels of poverty, increasing due to the cost-of-living crisis, and the damaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. Restricted support and significant impacts on mental health are potentially leading to a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.

Well-resourced services and improved staffing will help to address the poorer educational and employment outcomes these children and young people experience. Such activity will serve to support the closing of the educational attainment gap and aid the creation of a more equal society.

It is also clearly vital that those who are thought to require additional support have this identified as early as possible, are promptly assessed and are provided with it. Such early intervention can assist in preventing further difficulties developing later, maximising their life chances and enabling them to flourish and thrive.

As a coalition, we have built up a strong reputation campaigning for the increased provision of high-quality services for children and young people with ASN.

A presumption of mainstreaming

The cornerstone of an inclusive approach to education is a presumption of mainstreaming for pupils with ASN, introduced in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000. This means that they are educated in a mainstream school unless exceptional circumstances apply. As a coalition we are fully in support of a presumption to mainstream these children and young people.

However, we are concerned that there is a lack of resources, staff and co-ordinated support when it comes to addressing the needs of an increasing number of those with ASN in these schools.

Many children and young people with ASN are therefore being left poorly supported, which also impacts on fellow pupils and teachers, or are excluded from school altogether. An increase in support is required to help them meet their needs, ensuring that inclusion is meaningful.

There are also many children and young people currently in mainstream education whose interests would be better served by, for example, being in a special unit attached to a mainstream school or in a special school.

We are campaigning to:

  • Deliver greater resourcing – there must be substantially increased investment in services that provide care and support to children and young people with ASN. This includes the increased provision of teachers (including ASN teachers) and support staff, educational psychologists, mental health professionals and other support services.
  • Improve identification and assessment – there must be prompter identification and assessment of children and young people who are thought, for whatever reason, to require additional support. This support should be provided as early as possible, and in addition to this those with complex and high-level needs entitled to a co-ordinated support plan (CSP) should receive one.
  • Deliver greater support – there must be greater and more co-ordinated support available for children and young people with ASN in mainstream education, assisting in delivering successful mainstreaming. For those whose requirements are not being met by this provision, there must be an increased number of special schools and school places, as well as special unit places attached to mainstream schools, better meeting their needs.
  • Promote greater co-ordination– there must be greater co-ordination and collaboration between schools, social work services, health services, and voluntary and private sector service providers. This should aim to deliver the best possible care and support to children and young people with ASN, tailored to their individual needs. Those with ASN and their families or carers must also be more listened to and fully involved in planning services and transitions.
  • Promote greater awareness – there must be a drive to increase awareness of the rights children and young people with ASN and their parents or carers have, as well as looking to deliver a greater public understanding of ASN more generally.
  • Ensure adequate training – there must be adequate training, including continuing professional development, of teachers and support staff, social workers, health professionals and other practitioners in ASN. This will ensure that they are better able to identify and provide effective support to children and young people with these needs.
  • Deliver better recording and reporting of ASN – there must be clearer guidance from the Scottish Government to local authorities to ensure the consistent and meaningful identification and recording of pupils with ASN, given the significant variation between local authorities (PDF) in the proportion of those identified. This is a vital first step in ensuring that spending is in line with the level of need in each authority.
  • Promote innovative thinking – there must be greater promotion and sharing of good practice and innovative thinking in the provision of services for children and young people with ASN.
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