Pupils needing extra help soars to six-year high

More children than ever require extra help at school. Picture: Mikhail Lavrenov
More children than ever require extra help at school. Picture: Mikhail Lavrenov
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THE number of city pupils who need extra help at school to cope with autism or using English as a second language has soared to a six-year high.

New figures also show funding for each pupil receiving specialist assistance has plunged – sparking warnings that teaching quality and classroom discipline will suffer.

According to the data, 6534 pupils were provided with additional support for learning (ASL) in 2014-15 – up from 5948 in 2012-13.

Union bosses said failure to provide sufficient assistance could lead to “disruptive” behaviour, adding that there was a risk class teachers would be “diverted” from core duties.

Rises in the overall ASL budget have fallen well behind the rate of increase in the number of children requiring help, with spending per pupil dropping from nearly £3200 to around £2600.

A spokeswoman for the NASUWT Scotland teaching union said: “Behaviour in class can be a major issue.

“If a child with English as an additional language (EAL) is not able to follow what’s happening because there’s no additional support, they are unable to engage in learning. That can lead to children behaving in a disruptive way.

“Or if you have a child with social, emotional or behavioural needs, and that child loses their support, the class teacher is having to divert more of their time to meet that child’s specific needs, and they don’t have the same amount of time to spend on the rest of the class.”

There has been a surge in the number of youngsters who need help with English as a second language, with more than 5000 receiving support in 2014-15.

NASUWT leaders said these pupils were particularly vulnerable.

“There seems to be a pattern that support specifically for EAL is being cut, across Edinburgh and Scotland, so you’re getting an increasing number of children who need to be integrated and a decreasing number of specialists working with them,” said the spokeswoman.

Sophie Pilgrim, of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, said: “A reduction in individual support to children with challenging behaviour can result in severe disruption to mainstream classes with teachers, heads and deputy heads drawn into managing fraught situations.

“This is against a background of the number of ASN (additional support needs) teachers in the Capital dropping by 18 per cent between 2010 and 2014, and despite an increasing pupil population there has only been an increase of four 
teachers over this period.”

A city council spokesman said: “We have increased our financial investment every year to provide additional staff and resources for pupils and for 2015-16 have a record budget of £17.9m. This comes at a time when Scottish local authorities are having to save money due to the economic climate.”