Concerns have been raised in the Scottish Parliament about shortages of specialist support staff in schools, prompted in part by a recent Tes Scotland article.
Labour MSP Johann Lamont asked the Scottish government for its response to "the reported decreasing trend in specialist support staff in schools".
She pointed to evidence submitted to the Parliament's Public Petitions Committee by the EIS union, highlighting "a pattern over 10 years of a decreasing number of staff and an increasing number of children with additional support needs" – and also to the Tes Scotland report, which revealed that nine of Scotland's 32 councils had taken on no extra support staff to help schools cope after the return from the coronavirus lockdown.
Ms Lamont, who is a former teacher, also flagged up Tes Scotland's finding that in over half of Scottish councils special schools received no extra teaching staff to help them with the return to school.
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Ms Lamont, who was Scottish Labour leader from 2011 to 2014, added: "We can see that young people with additional support needs were already being let down. That disadvantage will be magnified immeasurably by the impact of the pandemic.
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"What practical measures – measures that are properly resourced and focused on already hugely disadvantaged young people – will [education secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney] take to reverse the long-term denial of support, which is amplified by the current crisis?"
Responding to Ms Lamont yesterday, Mr Swinney said: "We have continued to support the recruitment of additional teaching and support staff this year to ensure that children and young people receive the support that they need with their learning.
"Current figures indicate that 246 support staff have now been recruited. Our funding support includes an additional £5 million to local authorities, which is in addition to an additional £15 million every year to further enhance staffing capacity to respond effectively to the individual needs of children and young people."
Mr Swinndey added: "I am sure that Johann Lamont will be familiar with the fact that, as a consequence of the pandemic, the government has announced additional funding for local authorities, which has resulted in the recruitment of more than 1,400 additional teachers and in excess of 250 additional support staff. That is added to by the previous support of £15 million that was in place for additional support for learning staff.
"The number of pupil support assistants and the number of teachers are rising. The number of teachers in Scottish schools is at its highest level since 2008, and rising numbers of staff are coming in as a consequence of the pandemic recruitment. Not all of them will show up in the recent statistics, which showed a 12-year high in teacher numbers.
"I acknowledge the importance of ensuring that young people with additional support needs (ASN) have those needs met by the provision of high-quality learning and teaching staff. The government is committed to ensuring that that is the case."