As work continues at local level to implement improvements following the initial campaign focus on violent and aggressive behaviours in schools, the national workstream has moved on to the next element of the campaign – improving levels of ASN support and provision in schools.

With more than one in three pupils nationally having an identified additional support need – a figure that is far higher in many schools across the country – the glaring need for increased funding, resources and staffing to support young people with ASN is being highlighted in the current phase of the campaign.

The EIS recently produced a briefing paper for all MSPs, focusing on the need to improve ASN provision, to help raise awareness of the issues and to increase the political pressure on the Scottish Government and local authorities to provide more support for ASN.

The need for more support

For a long number of years now, the EIS has campaigned for increased resourcing of ASL to bridge the gap between policy and practice in our schools and for the development of a long-term resourcing strategy – including action to reduce class sizes and significantly enhance the availability of specialist ASL support and expertise within schools. Recently, the outputs of research and consultations which the Scottish Government has initiated as part of education reform have reaffirmed the Institute’s concerns in this area.

‘there is an urgent need to review and improve approaches to ensuring adequate, secure, and sustainable funding to provide staffing, specialists, and necessary resources to fully achieve the aspirations of meeting individual needs and an inclusive system’

The final report by Professors Alma Harris and Carol Campbell, emerging from the National Discussion, sends a strong message to the Scottish Government, calling for ‘adequate sustained funding to provide staffing and specialist resources to be able to achieve the commitment to inclusivity and [meet] the needs of each learner, with a particular urgency for children and young people identified as having Additional Support Needs’.

The report goes on to acknowledge that despite the current budget constraints and austerity, ‘there is an urgent need to review and improve approaches to ensuring adequate, secure, and sustainable funding to provide staffing, specialists, and necessary resources to fully achieve the aspirations of meeting individual needs and an inclusive system’.

The Humanly Report, independent research commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in September 2023, examines provision for pupils with complex additional support needs and again focuses on the imperative of resourcing to deliver inclusive education.

Despite this clear recommendation, in her letter to the Education, Children and Young People Committee outlining the findings of the report, the Cabinet Secretary made no reference to resourcing as part of the government’s response to this research. Yet the total number of pupils with an identified additional support need as per the December 2023 Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland data is 261,045 (37% of the school population). This represents an increase of almost 20,000 children and young people in the course of one year.

The same document also highlights that pupils with ASN are at significantly higher risk of exclusion than pupils without an ASN. The rate of exclusion for pupils with an ASN was 34.6 exclusions per 1,000 pupils in 2022/23, almost five times the rate for pupils without an ASN (7.1 exclusions per 1,000 pupils).

Poverty was also associated with higher exclusion rates. Rates of exclusion per 1,000 pupils were three and half times greater for pupils living in the 20% most deprived areas, compared with pupils living in the 20% least deprived areas.

We desperately need more teachers in our schools to support the best possible learning experience for all young people, including those with additional support needs

These statistics cannot be ignored. Whilst the pledge in the Scottish Government’s budget to employ more teachers on permanent contracts is welcome, this must actually lead to there being additional, permanently employed teachers in our schools and not just funding to maintain teacher numbers.

Teacher numbers have fallen across Scotland in each of the last two years, and the numbers of teachers on temporary contracts remain high. Despite a Scottish Government pledge to recruit 3,500 additional teachers across the country by 2026, we have seen no movement to bring this to fruition.

We desperately need more teachers in our schools to support the best possible learning experience for all young people, including those with additional support needs. The evidence is clear and the call for sufficient and immediate resourcing of ASL overwhelming. We now need the Scottish Government to act, for the children and young people in our schools, for their families and for our teachers and school staff.

The impacts of under-resourcing ASN provision

  • Increased stress and risk of personal injury or other health impacts for staff, because of exposure to violent incidents,
  • abuse or aggression, from learners who require more support but are not getting it, and from their parents.
  • Reduced morale among staff, owing to a feeling of failing young people and their families; a feeling of being ‘useless’; feeling blamed for repetitive unacceptable pupil behaviour; feeling unsupported by School Management Teams; concern for vulnerable children.
  • Reduced wellbeing both at and outside of work – lack of sleep, headaches, generalised anxiety – all of which undermine effectiveness at work and potentially contribute to more long-term illnesses and absence from work.
  • Increased workload for teachers and support staff against a backdrop of rising need and reduced human resource to address it.
  • There are multiple health and wellbeing impacts caused by reduced ASN for learners, both those who have additional support needs and those who don’t.
  • Learners who have additional support needs can experience reduced morale and lower self esteem, due to: receiving less support to have their needs met than is required; being less supported to take part in enrichment/after-school activities than is required; higher levels of generalised anxiety; being more likely to display challenging behaviour; being involved in more violent incidents, fights and low-level disruption to learning; and experiencing a loss of dignity e.g. when they exhibit high levels of distress.
  • Among the general pupil population, learners can experience higher levels of anxiety due to more stressful atmospheres developing when children with ASN do not receive the requisite support; stress caused by disrupted learning – e.g. when a classroom has to be evacuated due to a violent incident; potential distress caused by witnessing peers’ violent behaviour towards staff and/or pupils; and overall, reduced enjoyment of school.
  • Some pupils being unable to access learning due to social/emotional issues.
  • Less access to learning support for some pupils, as this is diverted to supporting the most complex and severe needs, e.g. less support for children with dyslexia.
  • Risk of reduced attainment and achievement, due to increasing nonattendance, opting out of school, disruption of learning or less time with teachers.
  • Differential impacts depending on socio-economic status: children from higher income families often getting more support than those from poorer backgrounds, as a result of more powerful parental advocacy.

Taking action at local level on ASN

Where lack of ASN provision has been identified as a priority issue at local level, EIS local associations are advised to work with unions representing education support staff in local authority areas, and possibly other teaching unions, making the case strongly against any proposed cuts to the education budget in general and ASN provision, in particular – either in the form of specialist teachers or in the form of support staff who, as low-paid workers, often are in the sights of local authorities seeking to make savings.

Any further erosion of staffing in ways that undermine the health and wellbeing of staff, put the safety of staff and young people at risk, and exacerbate the disadvantage already experienced by many children and young people with additional learning needs, would be even more unjust, unsustainable and therefore unacceptable.