Children with additional needs are being prevented from moving to specialist schools by councils because of the cost, MSPs have been told.
An “absolutely abhorrent situation” is resulting in schools being pressured by local authorities to keep children with additional support needs (ASN) in mainstream schools, according to charities.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, director of the National Autistic Society Scotland Nick Ward said that parents are having to “fight tooth and nail to get the appropriate placement for their child”.
Mr Ward added: “We’ve perversely created a system where a child has to fail in a mainstream school to get the specialist place it requires because local authorities don’t want to pay for it.
“That is an absolutely abhorrent situation.
“You’ve got autistic children basically being set up for a series of traumatic experiences and the family being set up for a series of traumatic experiences, all to get their child in the place they need to be.
“That’s not fair on the family, that’s not fair on the child and it’s not fair on the teachers.”
Asked by Liz Smith MSP about the Scottish Parliament’s backing for “mainstreaming” – trying to integrate ASN children in regular schools – Mr Ward added that a lack of support for mainstream schools to look after those children was creating a “dangerous” situation.
Criticising a lack of “fully-rounded support”, he said: “Mainstreaming, if funded well and if training is provided well for all members of staff, is brilliant.
“When you don’t fund it well, when you don’t support it well, then it actually becomes a bit dangerous for kids with additional support needs.”
Condemning the issue of councils exerting pressure on mainstream schools, Seamus Searson, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association said: “Many schools are expected to keep youngsters in their schools and it’s partly because of finances – the amount of money it’s going to cost for a youngster to go to [specialist schools].
“The council do all they can because of the financial restrictions to prevent that happening.
“That’s a mistake because what it means is that youngster is frustrated, struggles in a school situation, the teachers can’t cope with them and there’s tremendous pressure.”
He pointed out that the number of children with additional needs has roughly doubled since 2011 while numbers of specialist teachers and assistants is dropping.
He warned: “ASN teaching should be seen as a priority, something to aspire to, but it’s seen as the poor relation in many schools.”
However, Kayleigh Thorpe from learning disability charity Enable stressed that it wasn’t solely about the school or institution children went to, but the support and training staff had.
Calling for more guidance to ensure that children are properly included and integrated into schools, she added: “I would caution against viewing bricks and motor as the solution.
“We find it’s how we take specialist knowledge and how we insert it into the whole system.
“Any success story we’ve heard is where a person has made a difference not the setting.”