Councils neglecting ASN pupils

Only one in 15 children with `significant' learning difficulties has a co-ordinated support plan

Neil Munro

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Local authorities have come in for sharp criticism from a senior Government official for neglecting special needs pupils.

Parliament's education committee heard last week that the number of co- ordinated support plans, which replaced records of needs for youngsters with the most "significant" problems, are only around a fifth of the level expected when the new legislation on additional support needs (ASN) was being drawn up - 2,500 out of an anticipated 13,700.

Robin McKendrick, head of the Government's support for learning division, told MSPs this was "not good enough" - an unprecedented public rebuke from a civil servant.

Figures obtained under a freedom of information request by Rhona Brankin, Labour's education spokesperson, revealed that 2,536 young people with ASN had a co-ordinated support plan (CSP), while 39,171 do not. This compares with 9,875 who had a record of needs under the previous dispensation. The figures are based on returns from 29 of the 32 education authorities.

Ms Brankin said: "This information proves conclusively that records of needs have not been replaced by co-ordinated support plans in anything like the numbers predicted in evidence to the Scottish Parliament's education committee when the legislation was going through.

"This is a major concern. One of the drivers behind the additional support needs legislation was the huge discrepancies in the number of records of needs for children across different areas of Scotland. My research shows these massive discrepancies still exist."

The vast majority of what used to be called special needs pupils are dealt with in regular classes and have no CSPs, but the range of provision varies considerably. Rural Angus, for example, has 65 pupils with a CSP, while the remaining 307 ASN pupils do not; in contrast, Edinburgh has 55 with a support plan while 2,838 do not.

Some councils insist that the absence of a co-ordinated support plan does not mean the absence of support. Angus says its 307 youngsters with no CSP "will receive support, resources and advice from within their school". Fife, South Lanarkshire and Argyll and Bute make the same point.

Other authorities, like Renfrewshire, emphasise that the very broad definition of ASN pupils makes it difficult to come up with precise figures.

Further evidence suggests that there is little back-up for mainstream teachers who have to deal with the majority of ASN pupils. Another set of data released under FoI to Ms Brankin revealed that 22 of the 25 councils which responded gave no additional funding to provide specialist training for these teachers. Only three said they did so - Renfrewshire, Shetland and Highland.

Call for radical overhaul, p4.

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Neil Munro

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