Aberdeenshire's ASN figures alarm

1st March 2013 at 00:00
Education authority records more pupils with special needs than most others

A report from the Scottish government shows that one rural education authority has recorded significantly higher figures for children with additional support needs than similar authorities - and in many categories higher than Scotland's largest cities.

The report to the Scottish Parliament, Additional Support for Learning and Young Carers, which the government is required to make annually under the ASL Act, reveals that Aberdeenshire has the highest figures for dyslexia, specific and moderate learning difficulties, and physical or motor impairment, and the second-highest for children with a learning disability, and visual and hearing impairment.

The discrepancy has prompted calls for the introduction of a national validation system so that figures can be compared on a like-for-like basis.

"The reality is that there is no national requirement to benchmark these figures and to moderate them. Each authority sends in its own figures. How they count the numbers is up to each one. There is some guidance, but not much," said John Butcher, chair of the additional support needs network for the education directors' body ADES.

Pauline Stephen, acting head of service for integration and inclusion at Aberdeenshire Council, acknowledged that her authority's figures were "out of kilter" with others'.

"I think it's an issue to do with identification and reporting," she told TESS.

Aberdeenshire did not have any more dyslexic young people than Glasgow, for example, she said. But Aberdeenshire's reporting and identification was carried out by "a great number of people".

"We have not had the major cuts to support services that some of our other colleagues have had in other local authorities. We are still operating with most of our support for learning teachers and have nearly 1,000 pupil support assistants across the board," said Dr Stephen.

"Identification of dyslexia is not necessarily straightforward. It's a professional judgement at the end of the day that can lead to differences between local authorities."

Aberdeenshire had checked some of its figures when it realised they were higher than other authorities. It records 1,057 children with language or speech disorders - again, the second highest in Scotland.

"But when we checked that out with speech and language colleagues, they were in support of that figure. They even suggested it was a bit light," Dr Stephen said.

Labour's education spokesman, Hugh Henry, said: "It's strange that Aberdeenshire figures are so much higher than Aberdeen City and other authorities of a similar size. Is this because Aberdeenshire is committing more resources to supporting pupils with additional support needs or are there problems with definition and policy application, either in Aberdeenshire or elsewhere in Scotland?"

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The long-term plan of support for implementation of additional support for learning, published in November, confirmed the government's commitment to further considering the data collected on children and young people with additional support needs to ensure that it is fit to support ongoing implementation of the act. The information provided in the report to Parliament is accurate."

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

Original headline: Aberdeenshire's ASN figures are out of kilter

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