Disabled children channelled towards mainstream schools are being left isolated and segregated because there is not enough support, an Evening News investigation can reveal.
The number of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) going to mainstream schools has dramatically increased amid concerns that lack of funding for the sector risks “isolating” and “segregating” pupils.
There were nearly 200,000 children registered as having ASN across Scottish education in 2018, up a massive 69 per cent since 2012, analysis from JPImedia shows.
Scotland has also seen a sharp rise in the number of children with ASN going to mainstream schools, both primary and secondary, following a drive for greater inclusion from the Scottish Government, a 73.1 per cent rise since 2012.
But harsh cuts in Scottish Government funding for the sector have fuelled fear that children’s needs are not being met.
The mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome has criticised funding cuts for children with ASN in mainstream schools and has called for a stop to the “stigmatised” narrative around special education.
Lauren Eliott Lockhart, 36, a mother-of-two who is also a special education teacher had helped launch a petition campaigning for more cash for the sector.
The Scottish Government’s long-standing policy is that where possible children with ASN should remain in mainstream education rather than be “segregated” in special schools.
But Ms Lockhart said: “I am personally concerned about education policy around the presumption of mainstreaming as this will only work if there is money and resources to support it.
“There is a gap between policy and practice, and what is said in policy is not always what is happening on the ground.”
Ms Lockhart’s daughter Trudy, three, has complex needs and the mother is concerned about what her future education will look like.
She said: “Trudy needs one-to-one support with staff who know signing systems for her speech, and how to make the curriculum accessible for a child with a learning
“If she doesn’t get this, she will get lost in a growing mix of needs and abilities and fall massively behind.
“This is when we often see the gap widening between children with ASN and those without.”
Mrs Lockhart explained that there are problems in both mainstream and special schools due to the presumption of mainstreaming which will make Trudy’s school experience “complicated” and risks leaving her “isolated from her peers”.
She said: “This lack of funding does not only affect ASN children but all pupils in classrooms.
“The lack of support and resources for ASN children in mainstream is having an impact on other children and on our valuable teaching staff.
“I am a parent as well as a teacher and see the impact of the increase in children with ASN in mainstream schools due to the presumption of mainstreaming to teachers and to classrooms, as well as the detrimental impact it is having on invaluable special schools across Scotland.”
Ms Lockhart is part of a Facebook group, set up by parents of children with extra needs in response to ASN education cuts in Edinburgh.
The group’s petition calling for the Scottish Government “to provide adequate funding to support children with ASN in all Scottish Schools, including primary, secondary and special schools” has already received 750 signatures.
Mrs Lockhart went on to explain that it is incredibly difficult to “get a child into extra support schools”.
She said: “There are three cases in which a child with ASN can attend a non-local authority school, it is hard to invoke these, and therefore difficult to get a placement in a special school.
“There is also the stigma attached to special schools whereby pupils are seen as being ‘excluded’ from communities and ‘segregated’.
“This type of narrative needs to stop as special schools can provide invaluable support for children and families due to their resources, skilled staff and smaller class sizes.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All young people deserve the same opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential, and the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all pupils receive the support that they need.
“Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting.
“We are working closely with local authorities to improve consistency of support across Scotland. This includes improved guidance, building capacity to deliver effective additional support, improving career pathways and providing professional development resources.”
Cllr Alison Dickie, Education, Children and Families Vice Convener, said: “There are an increasing number of pupils with additional support needs in our schools and supporting them and our teaching staff is a priority for the council.
“The skills of support staff working in both special and mainstream schools are highly valued and additional opportunities for professional learning for these staff are available as part of the training offered by our Additional Support for Learning (ASL) service.
“All staff in special schools are offered a range of training appropriate to the needs of the pupils they support. This training is delivered by a range of professionals including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the ASL service, Psychological Services and Allied Health Professionals.
“There is, however, much yet to do and we continue to work together to improve the experiences and outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs in our city.
“It’s important that the voice of Pupil Support Assistants is increasingly heard in the way forward as we seek to get the support and resources right for every child, and I’m very happy to meet with staff to discuss this issue as I visit schools across the city.”
A pupil support assistant (PSA) from Edinburgh has revealed how he feels “completely overwhelmed” working in schools with additional support needs (ASN) pupils and has expressed concern about the lack of qualifications and experience required by PSAs to work with vulnerable children.
The support assistant, who the Evening News is not naming, has worked in both mainstream and special schools for the last eight years and explained that: “For those that are on supply and effectively zero hours, day in and day out they are put in situations they can’t cope with.”
He said: “All you need to work with a child with complex additional needs is to have the appropriate disclosures statements signed off. You end up in a situation where a lack of qualified, contracted workers results in potentially under-qualified, zero hours supply workers provide short-term relief for the school but at the expense of the children they work with.”
While the pupil assistant agreed that more inclusion sounds “great” he explained that the “implementation of this is still playing major catch-up” and Scottish schools are “struggling to support children with additional needs” to the detriment of these pupils.
He said: “Children are often placed into segregated systems within schools. By sticking a kid in a mainstream school but in a segregated department or even an outbuilding at times, all you are doing is displacing the issue. You’re not dealing with it and these children are not being fully integrated.”
The PSA also said that the issue lies with the “government’s position” and they have their “heads in the sand”.
He said: “It’s not the schools as such that are getting this wrong, it’s a governmental position and they’ve got their heads in the sand. From the top down, the whole system needs to be reassessed.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All children and young people should receive the support that they need to reach their learning potential. New online resources have been created to support school staff and guidance on the presumption to include ASN pupils in mainstream education have been updated.”
Thirteen-year-old Stephen Lawson has been left without a school to go to for six months since his family moved house.
The teenager, who has autism, had been attending Kaimes special education school in Edinburgh but the council said he could no longer go there after his parents moved to Bonnyrigg in Midlothian.
The family had hoped Stephen would make an easy transition to Lasswade High School but were told that the secondary could not provide the additional support needed.
Stepmum Jackie Lawson, 27, said she had repeatedly contacted both Midlothian and Edinburgh councils about her stepson’s schooling but had received “no response”.
She said: “When we moved to Bonnyrigg, we were told that Midlothian Council would continue to fund Stephen to go to Kaimes but they later said there was no funding available and that they would look at something locally.
“He got offered a place in the special unit at Lasswade High School but his application was rejected because the school felt that they couldn’t meet his needs.
“That was in January 2019 and we have had basically no contact or support since then and are no further forward.”
Jackie said that being out of school had left Stephen “confused” and “lonely”.
She said: “He thinks he is not allowed to go to school because he has autism and he gets really upset about this.
“We feel very let down by both councils. It feels like, because Stephen is a ‘problem child’, we have just been left and they are hoping we will give up and go away.”
Midlothian Council said: “We are aware that designing what is a bespoke ‘package’ of learning for this young boy has taken longer than anticipated. We wanted to be very sure we are fully addressing his needs, the needs of his family and indeed other young people learning with him.
“We are confident we now have that provision identified. We are in contact with the parents again to discuss the package of education and support measures we plan to implement.”