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Agenda: Fears budget cuts will hit the 20% of pupils with additional support needs

According to the recent Scottish Government census on pupils in our schools there has been an 89% increase in pupils with Additional Support Needs (ASN) over the past three years.

Indeed, the number of those in this category has risen from 10% in 2010 to now represent 19% of the school population or 131,621 young people. Almost one in five in our schools is therefore now classed as having ASN.

This epidemic is set against a background of council cuts, with an anticipated real-terms reduction of £624million by 2015-16, and a real concern when you take into consideration the unprecedented challenges already faced by children's services. Such a dramatic increase in numbers has led to increased pressure on resources, yet teacher numbers are decreasing - down from 52,022 in 2010 to 51,078 in 2013. In addition, far too few have the adequate training qualifications necessary to deal with those with ASN and the increased responsibilities dealing with this category entails, such as undertaking the functions outlined in Co-ordinated Support and Individual Education Plans.

Pupils who have ASN, such as autism and ADHD, have a considerably higher exclusion rate than the rest of the pupil population and require greater support. The same Scottish Government statistics note that the exclusion rate for pupils with ASN is almost four times greater than those without, with an adequate lack of support putting teachers under greater pressure. In this context and by implementing further cuts to already overstretched services, we would warn that councils are leaving themselves open to tribunals for failing to provide sufficient support under ASN legislation.

In addition, demand for children's services is at its highest since 1981, with the latest figures highlighting that 16,248 children are currently looked after by local authorities, a figure that has increased each year since 2001.

Without adequate resourcing, we face a lost generation of young people whose cost to society in the longer-terms will far outweigh any potential public sector cuts. Already we are hearing that more than half of Scotland's social work departments cannot cope with current demand, with predicted overspends of more than £35million, due in part to the ever increasing number of vulnerable children. We talk of the value of early intervention, yet how can this be achieved if departments are already stretched to their limit. Councils should not be contemplating cutting resourcing to these young people but working with the Scottish Government to increase it.

Children in Scotland has highlighted in a recent report that although the Scottish Government has given priority to increasing the attainment of the poorest children, there may be a significant gap between national aspirations and reality at local level. The same report notes that public sector cuts have already begun to affect vulnerable children and families and potential further cuts will have a cumulative effect, with families experiencing changes to multiple services, many of whom have already been impacted by measures such as the Welfare Reform Bill.

In another example, Scotland's young care leavers already languish at the bottom of the leagues when it comes to health, education, crime and employment outcomes. They are more likely to die prematurely, be unemployed, be addicted to drugs or alcohol and be imprisoned. These vulnerable young people rely upon the stability and trust offered by children's services during the transition from young person to adult and we must protect this fundamental right to prevent them from becoming yet another statistic.

Children's services are often the lifeline for some of Scotland's most vulnerable families and young people, and the looming danger of further cuts to an already overstretched budget is not an option.

We should be judged on how we deal with the most vulnerable, such as our children and young people, and to fail them at their moment of greatest need would be a damning indictment on us all.

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