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Watchdog highlights gap between ‘ambition and reality’ over ASN youngsters

(David Jones/PA)
(David Jones/PA)

Watchdogs have called for action to tackle the “gap between ambition and reality” for children with additional support needs (ASN).

Around a third of pupils in Scotland’s schools have some form of additional needs, with about 233,000 youngsters affected.

But the Accounts Commission – which scrutinises local councils – claimed these children and young people are not always receiving the help they need.

Commission member Stephen Moore said it could be “distressing and frustrating” to hear how families have to “fight” to get the support their children need to help with their education.

In a blog post published on the Accounts Commission website, he said that while all youngsters should “get the support they need, empowering them to reach their full potential and live the life they choose”, this was not “consistently being delivered in practice”.

Mr Moore said: “Every child has the same rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to an education that develops their personality, talents and abilities to the full, and the right for their parents to get the support they need.

“Schools, councils and other public bodies are required to work together to provide the right type of support for all children and their families. But this isn’t always happening as it should.”

An independent review in 2020 “found that not all pupils in Scotland are always getting the additional support they need, when they need it”, Mr Moore added, saying there were “numerous aspects of additional support” that therefore “need to be improved”.

With both the Scottish Government and councils seeking to make changes following the independent review, he said that “public services need to improve how they’re joining up, across professions, to plan and provide the right support to meet individuals’ needs”.

Mr Moore added: “We’ve seen that many public services responded quickly to the challenges presented by the pandemic, showing that change can happen quickly and effectively to support individuals and communities.

“And councils have the power to improve services as they ‘build back better’. Children and young people must be given the support and access to the right services that enable them to flourish and thrive.”

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the blog “raises issues that we have been highlighting for several years, reiterating our concerns that children and young people with additional support needs (ASN) and their families, are on many occasions not receiving the care and support that they need when they it”.

A spokesperson said: “There are still too far many barriers faced by families seeking support, often leaving them in a crisis situation that could easily have been avoided with prompt access to the appropriate services.

“While we have witnessed a more than doubling in the number of those with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems over the last decade, putting an immense strain on services, there has been a cut in spending on additional support for learning and a slashing in specialist educational support.

“Covid-19 has had a further major impact on those with ASN, for whom exclusion from school and lack of vital support proved devastating.

“This however exacerbated a situation that existed long before that, and we are potentially facing a ‘lost generation’ of vulnerable children and young people, not able to access the support that they need, with a resultant impact on the economy and society.

“We would urge the Scottish Government and newly-elected local authorities to work together to ensure that those children and young people with ASN are a priority and that they can access the necessary support to allow them to reach their full potential.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All children and young people should receive the support they need to reach their full potential. Local authorities are responsible for identifying and meeting the additional support needs of their pupils.

“All teachers provide support to pupils with additional support needs, not just ‘support for learning’ staff. Figures published in December 2021 show that teacher numbers have increased for the sixth year in a row, rising to 54,285 in 2021.

“This means there are more teachers than at any time since 2008, with the ratio of pupils to teachers at its lowest since 2009.

“We are investing £145.5 million to support education staffing in 2022-23, representing the biggest increase to support teacher recruitment since 2007.

“We also provide councils with an additional £15 million each year to help them respond to the individual needs of children and young people. This has allowed the recruitment of 1,036 extra pupil support assistants in 2021.

“We continue to work with partners to deliver the Additional Support for Learning Action Plan. An updated action plan will be published in the autumn.”