The “depressing” decline in school support staff over the past decade has been laid bare by new TESS analysis, amid claims that teachers have been left with greater levels of responsibility and higher workloads than ever before.
Almost every category of support staff has seen a sharp fall in numbers and even one group that has not – classroom assistants – is widely seen as unable to provide the same help that it once did.
The period since the SNP was first elected in 2007 has brought falls in school-based staff, including administrative and clerical staff (down by 20 per cent) and additional support needs (ASN) auxiliary or care assistants (9 per cent), a comparison of new figures and previously published statistics shows. Centrally employed staff such as quality improvement officers (down 34 per cent) and educational psychologists (13 per cent) have also declined.
However, since 2007, the pupil population has only decreased marginally (by 2 per cent). The proportion of children recorded as ASN has risen from 5.3 per cent in 2007 to the current 22.5 per cent, after a change in how additional needs are recorded, with concerns raised regularly about their welfare.
Louise Wilson, assistant secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: “In terms of workload, in terms of responsibility, teachers have more to cope with than they ever have.”
She said that this was partly a result of declining support staff – an issue that Ms Wilson said had cropped up with increasing regularity at the union’s annual conferences over the past five years.
Dougie Atkinson, professional officer for the Voice Scotland union, which represents many support staff, said the overall picture was “a depressing one”, with staff being "steadily taken out of many mainstream classrooms” and the educational experience for all children now “compromised”.
He added: “If support staff are disappearing, who has to pick up the additional needs work left behind? Our teachers, that’s who."
Stuart Jacob, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC), said that while his group supported the policy of educating children in mainstream schools wherever possible, “this is clearly challenging against a background of these cuts in support.”
A Scottish government spokesman said that it wanted “all children and young people to receive the support that they need to achieve their full learning potential.”
He added: “The Additional Support for Learning Act places education authorities under duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils.”
Decisions about employment of support staff were the responsibility of individual education authorities, he said.
This is an edited version of an article in the 6 January edition of TESS. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.