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Charities plea for £170m to be spent on kids with additional support needs

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Coalition says the number of pupils with an additional support need has increased from 118,034 to 170,329 in just four years

A coalition of children’s charities has called on £170 million of funding made available for schools to be used to support children with additional support needs.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pupils being identified with autism, dyslexia and mental health problems and the cash is badly needed.

Made up of leading independent and third sector providers of services to children and young people, such as Who Cares? Scotland and Action for Sick Children Scotland, the coalition is calling for the Scottish Government’s newly announced Pupil Equity Funding of £120 million, which has the aim of transforming the lives of disadvantaged children, along with the £50m Attainment Scotland Fund, to be used to target those with additional support needs.

The charities say that the number of pupils with an additional support need has increased from 118,034 in 2012 to 170,329 in 2016.

Scottish Government pupil census figures show that pupils in primary, secondary and special schools identified with mental health problems has increased by 126% in that timeframe.

The number of pupils on the autism spectrum has increased by 55% and those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties has risen by 53%.

The SCSC says the number of additional support needs teachers has fallen by 10% despite the increase in cases and those with additional needs, disproportionately come from lower income families and areas of deprivation.

A spokesperson for the coalition added: “What is key is that we provide those requiring it with the care and support that they need, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap.

“This is clearly difficult in an environment of austerity and budget cuts, with evidence of cuts in the number of ASN teachers and support staff.

“We would urge head-teachers to use the Pupil Equity Funding, at least in part, to address the key requirements of those pupils with ASN.

“In addition, as local authorities set their budgets they need to ensure that they are addressing the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The Scottish Government announced last week that 2,300 schools are to share £120m extra funding to reduce the attainment gap between pupils coming from rich and poor areas.

Allocations, dependant on the number of pupils from P1 to S3 known to be eligible for free school meals, are given directly to schools and can be spent at the discretion of headteachers.

Glasgow City received £21.6m, the highest amount, with 18,002 eligible pupils compared with the Shetland Islands which received £188,400.

As well as the SCCS, the funding has been welcomed by Barnardo’s Scotland.

Martin Crewe, the charity’s director, called on schools to focus on offering families support before their child even reaches school age.

“Our own work in partnership with nurseries, primary and secondary schools and communities demonstrates that where the right support is in place pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can and will get the most from their education,” Crewe said.

“One of the key things we have learned through our partnership working with schools is that closing the gap in attainment requires support for families before and beyond the school gates.

“This means focusing on the importance of attachment before children start formal education when they are in primary school and practical family support with difficulties at home.”

The funding was announced by deputy first minister John Swinney. He said: “I want every child in Scotland to have the best possible start in life, and it is unacceptable for children from the poorest backgrounds to have their chances limited by circumstances outside their control.

“The allocations I am announcing today will let parents, teachers and school leaders see how much funding their schools will receive in 2017-18 to help break the inter-generational cycle of deprivation.”