The number of teachers qualified to offer children additional support in schools is falling – despite more pupils needing help.
A new report by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) claims that the number of additional support needs (ASN) teachers in the city’s mainstream schools has dropped by 18 per cent in the past four years.
According to the report, which was released yesterday, there are currently only 138 special needs teachers employed in schools to assist with the Capital’s 10,600 youngsters that require the service. Children can have additional support needs for a number of reasons – they may have autism, learning difficulties, family issues or may even be learning English as a second language.
A spokesman for the SCSC dubbed the situation a “ticking timebomb” and said that not having enough teachers in schools to assist with ASN children had huge consequences.
He said: “Additional support teachers are vital to give kids the support they need.
“It increases their chance of employment or going on to further education, and helps decrease the chances of unemployment or turning to a life of crime.
“While we are seeing the number of kids with additional support needs increase, we are not giving them the support they require because the number of teachers is decreasing – we are actually going backwards.
“It is putting mainstream teachers under pressure – it’s a ticking timebomb.”
The figures, revealed in a parliamentary answer to a question by Labour’s Central Scotland MSP Siobhan McMahon, claim that the amount of teachers employed in Edinburgh schools to assist children with ASN has fallen by 30 over the last four years, from 168 in 2010.
But trends show that the number of children with support needs is rising.
In April, one council-employed supply teacher with nearly 20 years’ experience told the Evening News how staff were cracking under the strain.
The teacher, who asked not to be named, said: “[The rise in ASN pupils and falling staff numbers] creates a more challenging environment for the mainstream teacher, who’s probably already run ragged.
“In my experience, the pressure is one that constantly downgrades the quality of input the teacher can provide because they’re running out of time, resources and energy levels.”
Larry Flanagan, general secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland teachers trade union, added: “The EIS is not opposed to the principle of educating pupils with ASN within mainstream classes, but it is clear that the inclusion must be properly resourced to ensure that these young people, and all their colleagues within the class, receive the quality of education that they have the right to expect.
“Cuts to ASN are bad for schools, bad for our young people and run counter to current initiatives that aim to reduce social exclusion and tackle the attainment gap.”
The city council said that funding for additional support needs has been increased.
A spokesman said: “Overall our funding for additional support needs in schools has increased in real terms and we have protected the Additional Support for Language Service, Speech and Language Therapy and other support services as well.
“We regularly review our services to make sure they adapt to new demands and we will continue to do this to ensure the needs of children with additional support needs are met.”