The Education and Skills Committee at the Scottish parliament has published a new report on how Additional Support for Learning (ASN) is really working in our schools. The report reflects many of the concerns raised by UNISON members in our recent report Hard Lessons.
While the UNISON report did not focus on ASN in particular members raised lots of concerns about the lack of proper training and support for those working with children who have additional support needs. The committee report adds to the evidence that, while there is widespread support for the policies and for the principles of GIRFEC, we are a long way from delivering on these laudable aims.
The committee was “overwhelmed” by the response to its request for written evidence and were also able to add to that evidence gained through a round table discussion which included parents, trade unions, education staff and voluntary sector groups.
Submissions gave clear evidence that while children and young people may be able to access a school building that doesn’t mean that their needs are being met within the schools. While there is a lot of discussion about teachers it is school support staff that do most of the work supporting children with additional needs. Cuts to local government budgets mean that there are a lot less staff around to do that work leaving children unsupported. Many members report stress from the lack of training and support they receive for the tasks they are asked to carry out – like administering medicines or caring for pupils with challenging behaviour. Lack of staff makes it much more difficult.
UNISON submitted written evidence to the committee and took part in the round table and we are pleased to see the influence of our contributions on the final report.
The committee reports states that:
• Parents often have to fight for the rights of their children “every step of the way” in order to get additional support for them in schools. Parents from areas of deprivation have lower chances of ensuring their children get the support they need. The Committee is concerned this could ultimately widen the attainment gap and so is calling for more funding for advocacy services amongst other recommendations.
• The Committee is also concerned a lack of support for those with additional support needs could impact on the education of children without additional support needs. This could be due to the increased pressure on teachers to support specific needs as well as teaching classes other pupils, following a reduction in additional support needs staff in schools.
• The Committee considers that the effective inclusion of children with additional support needs is integral to the success of Getting it Right for Every Child and highlights its findings to the Government in that context.
While these issues are not just about cuts to education funding it is clear that the cuts are playing a role in reducing the numbers of staff available to support children and they availability of training for staff to ensure that they are able to Get It Right For Every Child.
It is essential that this report leads to some definite action to ensure that the commitments made to children with additional support needs are met.