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Vulnerable youngsters in Scotland hit with postcode lottery of financial support

Some of Scotland’s most vulnerable youngsters have been hit with a “highly alarming” 23.2% cut to their services over six years and a postcode lottery of financial support, The Herald can reveal.

New figures show that the spend on pupils with additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland has slumped from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,286 in 2018/19 (see Table 1 below).

And the spending across local authorities varies widely with some areas of the country spending more than twice as much per pupil than others.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition has raised concerns about state of funding across the country – and is seeking a Scottish Government review.

The spending across local authorities ranges from £2,289, £2,308 and £2,506 per pupil in Aberdeenshire, Scottish Borders and the City of Edinburgh to £5,655, £5,054, £4,741 per pupil in Shetland, Orkney and Midlothian.

It comes after the Herald on Sunday revealed that pupils with additional support needs were to be among those worst hit by “draconian” savings on services as cash-strapped local authorities looked to fill a £300 million budget black hole.

The SCSC believes a symptom of the cuts is falling attainments levels amongst ASN pupils who have conditions which can range from having a physical disability and communication difficulties to being affected by bullying, autism, dyslexia and mental health problems.

The number of ASN pupils in Scotland has soared from 118,035 in 2012 to a new high of 215,897 – an increase of over 82%.

But attainment rates for ASN pupils have suffered a “deeply disappointing” drop, prompting concern about the impact of previous budget cuts.

The attainment rate fell slightly across all levels from National 4s to Highers, with the attainment gap between those who have additional needs and those who do not also widening.

That has led to criticism from children’s groups and trade unions which have claimed ASN pupils are missing out on the specialist support they need and are being “failed” by the education system.

Lynn Bell of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “Representing a more than 30 per cent cut in real terms, these figures are clearly concerning and reinforce what we have been saying for some time over the potential creation of a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.

“One symptom of this may be recent falling attainment levels for those with ASN. There is also clearly a postcode lottery for delivering support across Scotland.

“In this respect we believe that the Scottish Government should undertake a financial review to ascertain the extent to which authorities are spending in line with the level of need in their area and identify any authorities that spend lower than their recognition rates may require. This should form the starting point for Scottish Government discussions with local authorities on their funding allocations.

“Ensuring the adequate provision of educational support for children young people with ASN, on a consistent basis across Scotland, is critical and yet too many pupils are missing out on the specialist support they require because of budget cuts at a time of increasing need. This is not only having a major impact on the children concerned but also their teachers and peers.”

Of 16 local authorities which divulged their spending plans at the start of the month, all but three are either planning or have made cuts affecting children with additional needs.

Highland Council had been undergoing the biggest changes to ASN and early intervention so far among the councils – with up to £1.96m being saved next year.

Through juggling of resources, the council hopes to make savings by redeploying learning support teachers to fill vacant classroom teaching posts but have said it should happen without major job losses.

Other cuts highlighted by councils have referred to cuts to non-statutory transportation, cuts to support workers, and other staffing “restructures”.

Ms Bell added:

“We recently joined forces with the National Deaf Children’s Society, the National Autistic Society Scotland, and Royal Blind, calling for increased investment to address the needs of those with ASN. Our hope is that any Barnet consequentials for Scotland from the UK Budget go towards meeting the needs of these individuals, representing some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“It is vital that those with ASN get the care and support they need, which is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly challenging in an environment of austerity and evidence of cuts in spending per pupil with ASN.

“The cost to society in the long term if adequate resourcing is not provided will far outweigh any potential savings made today.”

Table 1: Spending per additional support needs pupil in local authorities

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All children and young people should receive the support they need to reach their learning potential and all teachers provide support to pupils with additional support needs, not just ‘support for learning’ staff. Councils make decision about resources, teaching and staffing.

“Between 2012 and 2018 pupil support assistant numbers grew by 12%, home-school link worker numbers increased by 98% to 356 and school nurse or other medical posts rose 22%.

“New online resources have been created to support school staff and guidance on the presumption to include ASN pupils in mainstream education has been updated.”

This article first appeared in The Herald on 23rd March 2020.

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The SCSC is an alliance of leading providers of education, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.