ASN Assistants (Qualification and Registration)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 March 2024.

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Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the development of an accredited qualification and registration programme for additional support needs assistants. (S6O-03233)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

In taking forward that work, my officials have engaged extensively with a range of stakeholders, including local authorities, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, the unions, the association of support for learning officers and pupil support staff. That included a national engagement programme that was undertaken by Education Scotland, which gathered 2,500 responses from pupil support staff across all 32 local authority areas.

Through that engagement, we have heard a wide range of views and now have a substantial amount of information with which to inform the development of a final report. Officials have confirmed that the intention is to publish the final report in the spring, which will contain proposals for further action.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

We know that support assistants’ jobs are expanding. Their teaching burdens are increasing, they are more likely to be attacked and they have higher workloads, but they often get less training and support. They have to be classroom teachers, mental health workers and speech and language therapists in order to cover up some gaps in pupil provision. Will the cabinet secretary be clear about whether the Government will follow through on its commitment and give a timeline for publication of a pathway for additional support needs teachers’ training and education?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that that commitment stems from a Bute house commitment on looking at accreditation for pupil support assistants. It is vitally important that we consider that. I outlined in my initial response to the member that we expect to have the full detail of that report in the spring—in the coming weeks. I hope that that gives him some reassurance on the timescales involved.

More broadly, I hope that the member will welcome the data that was published earlier this week, which shows that we now have a record number of pupil support assistants working in Scotland’s schools. That number increased last year by 725, and that is because the Government is putting additional investment into pupil support assistants, recognising, as the member has done, that they play a key role in Scotland’s schools.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We have a couple of brief supplementaries.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary further detail how the record funding provided by local government—which was provided to it by the Scottish Government—is improving outcomes for young people with additional support needs, including in Dumfries and Galloway?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Spending on additional support for learning by local authorities reached a record high of £926 million in 2022-23. We have also invested £75 million in it since 2019-20, which, as I said in my response to Mr Griffin, has contributed to Scotland now having its highest level of support staff on record.

It is also worth recognising the achievements of our young people with additional support needs. We know that 93 per cent of secondary and special school leavers with an additional support need were in an initial positive destination three months after the end of the school year. That is certainly welcome news, and it is evidence of the impact of the Government’s further investment in supporting our children and young people.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Statistics that came out on Tuesday showed that Scotland has 392 fewer ASN specialists than it did in 2013. Over the same period, there was a 96.8 per cent increase in the number of pupils identified with an additional support need. What solution can the cabinet secretary offer right now to address the falling ASN teacher numbers and reduce the number of pupils that each of those teachers is supporting?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Liam Kerr will recognise that the data that was just published showed that the number of specialists was on an increasing trajectory. I hope that he will recognise that those numbers are now going in the right direction, in recognition of the need in the system.

The member and I, and a number of others, discussed that issue yesterday at the Education, Children and Young People Committee. I look forward to hearing the committee’s recommendations to the Government on that exact point.

During the committee meeting, I made the point to Ms Duncan-Glancy that, because of additional investment from the Government for teachers and pupil support assistants, we are now seeing record numbers of them in our schools. I hope that Liam Kerr recognises that in relation to pupil support assistants. I see him gesticulating from a sedentary position, but I hope that he accepts that in the past three years there has been an increase in the number of people with additional support needs as a specialism in classroom teaching. The numbers are going in the right direction, and that is because of that additionality in investment from the Government.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I encourage the minister to ignore any gesticulations coming from Opposition front benches.