The SCSC News

The number of pupils identified with autism, dyslexia and other conditions has increased dramatically, reinforcing calls for greater support

Published on April 22, 2019
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition calls for greater resourcing to support children and young people with additional support needs as new figures highlight dramatic increases in conditions.

Between 2012 and 2018, the number of pupils with:

  • Autism spectrum disorder has more than doubled (101 per cent).
  • Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties has risen by 86 per cent.
  • Care experience has risen by over 54 per cent.
  • Physical  health problems has risen by over 98 per cent.
  • Mental health problems has risen by over 252 per cent.
  • Communication support needs has risen by over 293 per cent.

Figures produced by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) have highlighted dramatic increases in the reasons pupils are being identified with additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland’s schools.

The figures, based on an analysis of the annual Scottish Government Pupil Census, indicates that between 2012 and 2018 the number of pupils identified with autism spectrum disorder in publically funded primary, secondary and special schools has more than doubled (101.1 per cent), those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties by 86 per cent, those in care by 54.1 per cent, those with physical  health problems by 98.8 per cent, those with mental health problems by 252.4 per cent and those with communication support needs by 293.4 per cent (pupils may have more than one reason for additional support) (see table at end of the press release for full details).

This is against the background of an increase of 68.7 per cent between 2012 and 2018 in the number of pupils identified with ASN, from 118,034 (PDF) to 199,065 (PDF), representing just over a quarter of all pupils (28.7 per cent).

The increase is in part due to increased recognition and diagnosis of these conditions, as well as continued improvements in recording. Greater clarity in these figures means that support and funding can be more targeted, hopefully more appropriate to the needs of the child or young person concerned.  

The alliance of leading independent and third sector service providers has repeated its call for greater resourcing by local authorities and the Scottish Government to support those with ASN, who disproportionately come from lower income families and areas of deprivation.

The figures, from the annual Scottish Government pupil census, indicate that between 2012 and 2018 the number of specialist teachers supporting those with ASN has decreased from 3,840 to 3,437, a decline of 403, representing a new low.3

It also highlighted a fall in the number of specialist support staff in key categories  such as behaviour support staff, where the number has dropped by 58 between 2012 and 2018 (from 180 to 122) and by 43 in the number of educational psychologists (from 411 to 368).4

Against the background of an increased number of those with ASN, figures reveal that per pupil spend has slumped from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,393 in 2017/18. This amounts to a cut of £883 per pupil, representing a 26.7 per cent drop in real terms (20.6 per cent in cash terms).

The coalition also raised concerns about the effectiveness of a presumption of mainstreaming, that all pupils be educated in a mainstream educational environment unless exceptional circumstances apply.

A spokesperson for the SCSC commented:

“It is clearly positive to see that we are become increasingly good at identifying and recording those with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia, mental health problems and learning difficulties.

“Greater clarity in these figures allows resourcing to be targeted in a more appropriate manner.

“However, what is key is that we provide those requiring it with the care and support that they need, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly difficult in an environment of austerity and budget cuts, with evidence of cuts in the number of ASN teachers and support staff.

“While we also support the presumption of mainstreaming, that all children and young people be educated in a mainstream educational environment unless exceptional circumstances apply, it is clearly difficult to see how this is functioning properly for all those with ASN given this fall in specialist support and increase in the number of those identified with conditions such as autism and mental health problems.

“The Scottish Government and local authorities need to work together to provide the necessary resourcing to address the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. “


Reasons for support for pupils with ASN (pupils may have more than one reason for additional support).

  2018* 2012*
Pupils for whom reason for support is reported    198,935 117,755
Learning disability      13,665 15,979 - 15.5%
Dyslexia      21,663 13,497 +60.5%
Other specific learning difficulty (e.g. numeric)      23,058 10,858 +112.4%
Other moderate learning difficulty      29,272 17,834 +64.1%
Visual impairment         4,574 3,028 +51.1%
Hearing impairment         3,332 2,253 +47.9%
Deaf blind               59 47 +25.6%
Physical or motor impairment         8,222 6,530 +25.9%
Language or speech disorder      17,272 11,367 +51.9%
Autistic spectrum disorder      17,393 8,650 +101.1%
Social, emotional and behavioural difficulty      43,680 23,485 +86.0%
Physical health problem      13,045 6,562 +98.8%
Mental health problem         4,419 1,254 +252.4%
Interrupted learning         4,236 1,731 +144.7%
English as an additional language      34,816 15,148 +129.8%
Looked after         8,677 5,630 +54.1%
More able pupil         3,189 2,408 +32.4%
Communication Support Needs         7,464 1,896 +293.4%
Young Carer         3,248 441 +636.5%
Bereavement         2,603 650 +300.5%
Substance Misuse            423 170 +148.8%
Family Issues      16,486 3,636 +353.4%
Risk of Exclusion         1,336 692 +93.1%
Other      17,844 11,838 +50.7%


*Scottish Government, Pupil Census 2018 supplementary data, Table 1.8, 14th March 2019. Available at: (accessed 22nd April 2019). 2012: Pupil Census 2012 supplementary data, Table 1.8, 11th December 2012. Available at:, (accessed 6th February 2017).

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