Fears over rising number of support needs pupils

Many pupils now need extra help. Picture: John Devlin
Many pupils now need extra help. Picture: John Devlin
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CLASSROOMS are at risk of turning into “disaster” zones amid a five-fold rise in the number of children with additional support needs (ASN), teachers in the Capital have warned.

They say a soaring population of pupils requiring extra help, fewer staff and budget cuts are producing “degraded” learning environments for all youngsters.

It has been claimed mainstream teachers are being left to look after ASN children by themselves, with qualified learning support counterparts often drafted into other classes to cover for general staff shortages.

New data has revealed there are nearly 10,600 youngsters registered as needing assistance at school for conditions including autism and learning English as a second language – up from 10,155 in 2013-14 and just under 2000 in 2007-08.

One council-employed supply teacher with nearly 20 years’ experience, almost ten of which have been spent in the Capital, and who asked not to be named, said staff were cracking under the strain.

He 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. It becomes a disaster area.

“And there’s a knock-on effect for the more able children. The mainstream teacher won’t have the same amount of time to deal with the more academic kids in the class.”

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, HAS, warned a fall in teacher numbers – together with “deep cuts” to specialist support staff and psychologists – is making it more difficult for schools to deal with badly-behaved children. Scottish Government figures show overall staff numbers in Edinburgh decreased from 3212 in 2013 to 3159 last year.

And the number of registered supply teachers in the city is at a four-year low, dropping from 858 to 787 between 2014 and this year.

An EIS spokeswoman said: “Further training and additional support in both mainstream and specialist schools is vital to to provide the best learning experience for all pupils.

“Given the level of cutbacks, including teacher numbers and the availability of pupil-support assistants, it is clear that more investment is needed to support pupils with ASN.”

Education chiefs stressed that a five-fold rise in the number of registered ASN pupils did not necessarily mean there had been a similar increase in need.

A council spokeswoman said: “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.”