Alison Johnstone: Spare kids from callous cuts

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It’s the school holidays, and for many parents and young people these lazy days of summer will be bookended with ­emotion as the transfer from one school year to the next takes place.

Indeed, for those leaving school it can be a real ­life-changing experience, going from a school ­environment into (hopefully) work, training, college or university.

Recent figures showed that most school leavers are going into such positive destinations but there’s another set of figures that has been overlooked and to which we should pay more attention.

The proportion of school leavers with Additional Support Needs (ASN) ending in a positive destination such as further education or employment has gone up slightly from 82.5 per cent in 2012-13 to 84.4 in 2013-14 but this remains below the rate for those without ASN at 93.4 per cent.

A young person with ASN might be being bullied, have behavioural or learning difficulties, be deaf or blind or be looked after by a local authority.

Across the Lothians 20,000 children have ASN. The main factors tend to be learning disabilities and dyslexia. Across Scotland there are more than 140,000 pupils (21 per cent of the school population) with ASN, and it disproportionately affects children from lower income families and areas of deprivation.

The requirement for additional support varies across a spectrum of needs and circumstances. It tends to be best that support is integrated rather than singling out the pupil. Children and young people usually want to be seen as no different from their classmates. The approach should be to view children as individuals and tailor support to their needs.

The Scottish Government has admitted that not all children with additional requirements have received the support to which they are entitled, and as ministers continue to collect information about this issue, more children are being recorded as having additional support needs. We need to ensure best practice is being shared so we can ensure an inclusive and equal education system.

Local authority budget cuts impact on the learning of our most vulnerable pupils, and I know teachers are worried that there are bigger cuts to come. We cannot ignore the link between deprivation and additional support needs, and we cannot stand by while local authority budget cuts impact upon the most vulnerable young people in our society.

All too often ASN provision is seen as a soft target for cuts and those in the sector tell me they feel their already under-funded vital services are increasingly regarded as a luxury.

The earlier a child’s additional support needs are identified and provided for, the more likely they are to enjoy a healthy development into adulthood.

We have a responsibility in Holyrood to support local authority service delivery and I urge the Scottish Government to speak to councils without delay to identify how we can protect and enhance the provision for those with additional support needs across Scotland.

Alison Johnstone is an MSP for Lothian region and is education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens