Teachers with expertise in complex additional support needs are in danger of becoming a dying breed, according to research.
The problem is compounded by a significant loss of universities' capacity to provide specialist training for the next generation of teachers.
Peter Doran's review of learning provision for children and young people with complex additional support needs, published last week, blames the removal of ring-fenced funding to local authorities for a drop in the number of teachers seeking specialist training. That drop in demand has led to a reduction in university staff providing the training.
"Initial enquiries indicate this reduction is to a very serious level. In one university that had 10 lecturers specialising in additional support for learning a few years ago, the number is now two," said Mr Doran in his report.
"The previous role of universities in promoting and supporting CPD and research for those working with children and young people with complex additional support needs appears to have been seriously undermined. The resultant loss of research capacity in the universities in relation to complex additional support needs is serious and will severely limit Scotland developing evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning," he states in The Right Help at the Right Time in the Right Place.
The report refers to separate research led by Elizabet Weedon at the University of Edinburgh, which found that nearly 60 per cent of teachers specialising in visual impairment are aged 45 and over, while 68 per cent of those specialising in hearing impairment are over 45.
Sheila Riddell, professor of inclusion and diversity at the university's Moray House School of Education, said the vast majority of teachers had appropriate qualifications, but "as those teachers retire, it will be difficult to sustain that".
Edinburgh had retained much of its research and development expertise, but its ASL courses are "supported and underpinned by overseas students," she explained.
Lio Moscardini, a senior lecturer in educational support at the University of Strathclyde, said new teachers were aware of their responsibilities towards children with support needs in the mainstream, but there was an issue of "disappearing expertise", when it came to complex needs.
The Doran review has recommended that a register be set up to record and monitor the qualifications and expertise of teachers specialising in additional support needs to assist workforce planning. The General Teaching Council for Scotland said it would "consider what steps might be necessary to take this forward in practice".
Under government regulations, only teachers of visually or hearing- impaired children are required to hold an additional qualification. Although teachers can start in their post without holding the relevant qualification, they should, by law, acquire it within five years.
A survey, led by Elisabet Weedon at the University of Edinburgh, on teachers of children with hearing impairments across 26 local authorities, found that 24 of 131 were not qualified. Of these, six had been in their post for less than five years, 11 were in training, five were not training but had been employed for more than five years, and data was missing on two.
Among 88 teachers of visually impaired children, working in 27 authorities and a grant-aided school, 35 were not qualified. Of these, 12 were in training, 18 had worked for less than five years, and three had more than five years' service but no qualification.
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