UNISON members are clear that currently we are not getting it right for children with additional support needs. The strategy in itself will not work without appropriate funding for both the day-to-day delivery of those services and for training and professional development for all the staff working with those children. The strategy therefore needs to ensure that includes all staff not just teachers whether that’s in local authority settings or in the case of this proposal for strategic commission of services for children and young people with complex additional support needs.
The Education and Skills Committee report into Additional Support Needs (ASN) supports UNISON’s belief that Scotland is a long way from meeting its aspirations for children with additional support needs. There are some great strategies and policy commitments to supporting children with additional support needs but these have not been matched with adequate funding to enable their implementation or recruitment, training and support for the staff needed to meet those needs.
Parents often have to fight to get the additional support their child needs. When parents (who are able to fight) “win” that fight is no additional funding attached to implement the decisions. This therefore has an impact of provision of services for other children relying on that budget. The Scottish government needs to develop a much more detail on the demand for both the strategic services proposed in the strategy and those services that will remain in local authority control. There then needs to be funding to meet those costs. It is also clear that there is a risk that those from better-off backgrounds have higher chances of winning those battles and so further increasing the attainment gap. We fully support the education committee’s call for review of the finances available to deliver of the widely supported aims of the original Bill and the new strategy outlined in the consultation paper.
UNISON conducted a survey of school staff earlier in the year and while the survey was about the impact of cuts on schools, members working with children with ASN consistently responded saying that they were not getting adequate training and support to deal with the complex needs of the children they were supposed to be supporting.
It is also increasingly clear that some children are not best served by mainstream schooling and that there continues to be a need for specialist support. UNISON is therefore not opposed to the strategy in principle. This though cannot be a route to outsourcing of local government services or to a race to the bottom in staff wages or terms in conditions. There needs of children will only be met by properly trained and supported staff with pay and terms and conditions to reflect their skill.
The strategy document ignores the fact that it is not generally teachers who are working closely with children with ASN. It is support workers, classroom assistants and pupil support assistants. since 2010 the number of pupils with additional support needs has doubled but there are 1841 less support staff in local authorities. Sadly there are no official figures for the third sector but the experience of our members there is of tight budget, increased workloads and job cuts. Across Scotland our members are telling us that they are dealing with children with complex physical and behavioral support needs with minimal training and support. Getting it right for every child with additional support needs cannot be done on the cheap. There needs to me more staff and better training and professional development for all staff not just teachers.