Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire following the loss of more than 100 specialist teachers supporting children with additional support needs (ASN).
Labour leader Richard Leonard said that, as a result, ASN pupils were not receiving the expert care and support they needed, with some being shut in rooms by themselves because their teachers lacked the training to cope with their behaviour.
There were 1,867 ASN teachers working in Scottish primaries and secondaries in 2014, but that figure dropped to 1,745 in 2017 – a fall of 122.
Over the same period, the number of pupils recorded as having an additional support need in primary and secondary rose from 133,561 to 176,837.
During First Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Mr Leonard said: “So the need is up by over 30 per cent, but qualified teachers down by over 6 per cent.”
Mr Leonard had spoken to the mother of a 13-year-old with low-functioning autism who had daily “meltdowns” at school because the teachers caring for him did not have the right skills – even though he had been placed in a department for ASN pupils.
Ultimately, the meltdowns led to him being shut in “a soft room”, which increased his distress and exacerbated the situation.
'Stop cutting school funding'
Mr Leonard called for the Scottish Budget – due to be set out by finance secretary Derek Mackay next week – to result in no more cuts for schools.
He said: “Callum’s family believes that the teacher in charge of his class did not have the appropriate training and therefore did not make the right decisions for Callum, his schedule, his work or his environment.
“His mother told me that: 'This resulted in Callum going into meltdown on a daily basis...the teacher would shout and things would escalate further. Callum would be manhandled to a soft room; the door would be closed on Callum, which again escalated his anxiety.”
“First minister, can you tell Callum’s family why the number of specialist teachers has been cut under your government?”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said that overall teacher numbers had increased over the past two years and that if you looked at all the staff involved in supporting children with ASN – from teachers and educational psychologists to behaviour support staff – the number had increased.
She added that local authorities had also increased their investment in additional support for learning and that “despite their challenging circumstances”, children with additional needs were continuing to achieve, with more than 87 per cent of school leavers with additional support needs entering a positive destination.
However, she added that education secretary John Swinney would be happy to meet with Callum’s family to “understand that experience in more detail”.
Children’s commissioner Bruce Adamson has been investigating the use of restraint and seclusion in schools and is due to report on his findings soon.
Earlier this year, a survey of the parents and carers of autistic children found that unlawful exclusion of autistic pupils was “widespread” and that some autistic children were being sent home from school multiple times a week – but not formally excluded.