Schools (Specialist Support Staff)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd December 2020.

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Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

6. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported decreasing trend in specialist support staff in schools. (S5O-04878)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Specialist support staff and teachers play a vital role in supporting their pupils. We have continued to support the recruitment of additional teaching and support staff this year to ensure that children and young people receive the support that they need with their learning. Current figures indicate that 246 support staff have now been recruited. Our funding support includes an additional £5 million to local authorities, which is in addition to an additional £15 million every year to further enhance staffing capacity to respond effectively to the individual needs of children and young people.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

In a submission to the Public Petitions Committee on the role of specialist support staff for young people with additional support needs, the Educational Institute of Scotland reported a pattern over 10 years of a decreasing number of staff and an increasing number of children with additional support needs.

The Tes newspaper recently reported that nine councils had taken on no new support staff during the pandemic and that

“in over half of Scottish councils, special schools received no additional teaching staff to help them cope with the return to school during the pandemic.”

We can see that young people with additional support needs were already being let down. That disadvantage will be magnified immeasurably by the impact of the pandemic.

What practical measures—measures that are properly resourced and focused on already hugely disadvantaged young people—will the cabinet secretary take to reverse the long-term denial of support, which is amplified by the current crisis? Regardless of the figures that he has quoted, surely it is evident that more of the same cannot be an option.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Can we have shorter supplementaries, please?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am sure that Johann Lamont will be familiar with the fact that, as a consequence of the pandemic, the Government has announced additional funding for local authorities, which has resulted in the recruitment of more than 1,400 additional teachers and in excess of 250 additional support staff. That is added to by the previous support of £15 million that was in place for additional support for learning staff.

The number of pupil support assistants and the number of teachers are rising. The number of teachers in Scottish schools is at its highest level since 2008, and rising numbers of staff are coming in as a consequence of the pandemic recruitment. Not all of them will show up in the recent statistics, which showed a 12-year high in teacher numbers.

I acknowledge the importance of ensuring that young people with additional support needs have those needs met by the provision of high-quality learning and teaching staff. The Government is committed to ensuring that that is the case.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will take Kenneth Gibson’s supplementary to Johann Lamont’s question before Mary Fee asks her supplementary to Fulton MacGregor’s question.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Since 2009, the number of pupils with additional support needs has rocketed from 37,000 to 208,000—to 27 per cent of primary school children and 35 per cent of secondary school children. It is no wonder that the provision of support staff cannot keep pace. Have additional support needs changed markedly over the past decade, and are they consistent across all schools and local authority areas? When does the cabinet secretary envisage that that meteoric rise in numbers will cease?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is important that I explain that there are two main reasons for the increase in the number of children and young people who are recorded as having additional support needs since 2009. The first is that, in 2010, we changed the way in which national statistics on pupils with additional support needs are collected. Prior to then, only pupils with co-ordinated support plans or individualised educational programmes, or pupils who were attending a special school, were captured. The definition was expanded at that stage.

The second reason is that the needs of children and young people are being appropriately identified and recorded, in line with the statutory requirements set out in the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2014. That act provides a national definition of additional support for learning, supplemented by a statutory code of practice. It is important that we ensure that, in all circumstances, the needs of young people are properly recorded and then addressed as a consequence.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will now take Mary Fee’s supplementary question to question 3.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

Early in December, a report by the Incorporated Society of Musicians showed that Scotland has been the most negatively impacted country of the four United Kingdom nations in terms of the provision of music tuition across primary and secondary schools during the pandemic. Some teachers have highlighted concerns that local authorities are interpreting the guidance in different ways. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment about updated guidance, but what further steps can he take to ensure that music tuition takes place safely and consistently across Scotland?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I hope that my earlier answer to Mr MacGregor reassured Mary Fee that the Government attaches the greatest importance to ensuring that music tuition is part of Scotland’s curriculum and is delivered as effectively and as consistently as possible in our 2,500 schools.

It is important that music education forms part of the curriculum for young people of all ages. It is fundamental in our primary education system and, of course, as I expressed in my answer to Mr MacGregor, it can provide an important route for young people to fulfil their potential in secondary education.

Of course, there are some challenges in relation to the delivery of music education because of the need to minimise the transmission of the virus, and I very much regret that those constraints are in place. However, the guidance from Education Scotland is designed to find ways in which we can still enable, in these difficult and constrained circumstances, the delivery of effective music education. I give Mary Fee the assurance that that will be a priority for the Government in our dialogue with local authorities and schools.