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Problem kids fall through the gap

THE pupils who most need additional support in schools are those least likely to receive it, according to a survey on social inclusion by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

This is the view of 90 per cent of SSTA members in relation to pupils with emotional and behavioural problems. While only a third felt the measures in place for pupils with physical or medical conditions and with special educational needs were inadequate, almost three-quarters felt this was the case for problem pupils.

The survey also reveals that 60 per cent of teachers who took part have received absolutely no training of any kind to deal with such pupils - and the remaining 40 per cent say the quality of the training was very poor.

The association is now calling for a national special needs training programme for all teachers. Smaller classes for groups with special needs pupils are also essential.

Two-thirds of those questioned said training did have a positive impact on classroom management.

Barbara Clark, the union's assistant general secretary, commented: "When you have six, seven or eight pupils with a range of physical, educational and behavioural needs in a teaching group of 32, common sense tells you that some pupils are going to miss out on teacher time and attention.

"Moreover the presence of supporting adults, such as special assistants, while vital, adds to the congestion in rooms. The problem is even worse when classrooms are small, as is the case in many newer schools.

"Overall class sizes must be reduced where there are a number of pupils with difficulties, so that no pupil, including those without identified difficulties, is disadvantaged."

Although the survey shows that teachers feel there is better provision for some pupils than others, they also believe more could be done - 71 per cent want more support for pupils with physical and medical problems, 82 per cent for those with SEN and a significant 91 per cent for pupils with behavioural problems.

While the SSTA, like all the unions, claims constantly to support social inclusion in principle, it is clear that patience is running out - 80 per cent of SSTA members say the policy is adding to their workload.

"I believe in social inclusion but it's wearing me out," one teacher reported.

The union, noting the wide variation in levels of additional support for pupils across the country, is also demanding a programme of research to demonstrate what approach works and what represents best value.

The Scottish Executive says it has earmarked steadily increased funds to support inclusion in mainstream classes. The latest spending review has increased the amount available for inclusion and to comply with the new disability legislation, to an extra pound;19 million in 2004-05 and pound;21 million in 2005-06. Another pound;8 million is committed to staff training.

Ministers also decided that the pound;10 million set aside to implement the recommendations of the discipline task force, initially intended to be a one-off sum, would be available annually.

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