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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Failing Our Children

The Conversation has an article this morning about the problems faced by children with autism in schools. In Scotland the high hopes of those (including UNISON) who supported the 2000 Act around mainstreaming of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) have clearly not been realised. The needs of children with ASN are not being fully met in our schools or early years settings.

While children with additional support needs now attend mainstream schools many are far from being mainstreamed into school life. The policy has not been supported with adequate funding for the learning support, healthcare needs and behavioural support that children need. There have been cuts to support staff numbers as well as specialist like educational psychologists and social workers.

There is also widespread misunderstanding about who is actually providing support for children with ASN on a day-to-day basis. Classroom assistants provide the majority of their support and those (mainly) women do not get adequate training, support or pay for the work they undertake. School nurses are not part of a school’s staff complement: pupils’ healthcare needs are taken care of by support staff. Pupils with challenging behaviour are also most often supported by school staff not teachers. Schools need appropriate funding for both the day-to-day delivery of specialist support and for training and professional development for all the staff.

Unsurprisingly the lack of proper support means that there are increasing problems with challenging behaviour, including violence. Staff are very concerned about the violence they experience in schools and the lack of support they receive from employers after an incident has taken place. Many report that they are told that it is just “part of their job”. Reporting systems are inadequate and many incidents go unrecorded. Even when reported there is little if any assessment of what happened or action taken to avoid a repeat. No one should be expected to be the victim of violence as part of their job.
The following are the incidents recorded by local authorities in the 2017/18 (not all authorities give separate figures for education):
Aberdeen City – Education Services - 244 physical assaults, 188 Staff Verbal
Aberdeenshire Education & Children’s Service 544(employee) 70 (non employee) Violent Incident
South Ayrshire – Education –56 verbal, 77 physical, 65 verbal & physical, 9 threatening behaviour
Renfrewshire –68 Classroom assistant, 21 nursery officer, 166 Teacher -physical/verbal
West Dunbartonshire – 95 education physical assaults
West Lothian - Education, Pupil support worker 709 incidents, Education, Teacher 402 incidents
Dumfries &Galloway – 463 violent incidents
Clackmannanshire - Teaching Staff 53/32physical 21 verbal, school Staff 78 physical /21 verbal
Stirling – Schools & Learning - 194 physical assaults on employees
City of Edinburgh :Early Years Officer 3 violence with injury 1 violence with no injury Early Years Practitioner 28 violence with injury 16 violence with no injury
Learning Assistant 26 violence with injury 8 violence with no injury
Nursery Nurse 125 violence with injury 47 violence with no injury
Teacher-Nursery 2 violence with injury 2 violence with no injury
Teacher-Primary78 violence with injury 43 violence with no injury
Teacher-Secondary 4 violence with injury 7 violence with no injury
Teacher-Special 122 violence with injury 24 violence no with injury

Violence is not a minor issue. Action needs to be taken to ensure that incidents are reviewed, that staff are given adequate ongoing support including counselling and adequate time out to recover. Incidents must be properly investigated. There needs to be action in terms of appropriate staffing going forward and specific support for the child. Other children also need to be protected from unacceptable behaviour. Accepting violence in schools fails the children who exhibit violent behaviour as much as it fails everyone else involved. They need support to express themselves in a more appropriate manner. It is those pupils who have most to gain from school leaders reacting properly to violent incidents with full risk assessments and then taking action to deal with the issues identified.

Schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupils because of budget cuts. On top of cuts to resources demand is rising, adding additional pressure. The number of pupils with additional support needs has doubled since 2010 but there are 1841 fewer support staff in local authorities. It is clear that cuts to support staff in schools and to “expert advice” services such as educational psychologists who could support staff and pupils directly is having an impact on the whole school not just children with identified support needs.

If next week’s budget cuts local government funding as proposed things will only get worse.

My earlier report Hard Lessons on the impact of cuts on school staff is available here

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