There is no way of telling whether there has been a drop in additional support needs (ASN) staff, the Scottish government has been told.
The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee today wrote to education secretary John Swinney to raise concerns about changes to the way in which ASN staff numbers are recorded in Scotland.
The letter, from committee convener Clare Adamson, queries the “abandonment” of the terms “additional support needs auxiliary” and “care assistant”, which were replaced in the latest round of annual statistics by a new catch-all category of “pupil support assistant”.
This, writes Adamson, “means there is no way to tell how many support staff are working specifically to support children with additional support needs across Scotland”.
She adds: “Consequently, there is no way of ascertaining whether there has been a reduction in the number of ASN staff in certain areas or across Scotland and the extent of any such reduction.”
After a meeting of the committee last month, when members asked government statisticians about the rationale for the move, Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer described the new category as “comically generalised”.
Mr Greer, who has pursued the issue using freedom of information legislation, said there was “a fundamental issue of transparency, which the government are unable to provide a credible answer on”.
He added: "We know that far, far too many of the one-in-four young people with additional needs in Scotland are being badly let down, and a lack of appropriate staff support is often the cause.
"These changes will mask that continued decline in the number of ASN assistants by merging them into a comically generalised category of 'pupil support assistants'.”
The Scottish government confirmed it had received the letter and said it would respond early in 2019.
A spokesman said: “The school supports staff statistics have been brought into line with procedures for national statistics on pupils and teachers to improve accuracy. This means that they are now better aligned with current practise in schools and local authorities on how pupil support is provided."
At the meeting in November, Laura Meikle, head of the Support and Wellbeing Unit at the government's Learning Directorate, said reducing the number of categories of support staff had been a decision taken in consultation with educational bodies.
Ms Meikle said: "The statistics are a very important part of the evidence base that we use to implement policy, but it's not the only one."
She said the term "pupil support assistant" was “more appropriate” than the previous terminology, adding that she was “comfortable” with the change because it had been backed by a wide range of stakeholders.