HOW many warning signs is it going to take before the Scottish Government tackles the crisis in special needs education? Only a few months ago, the charity Enable Scotland delivered a starkly honest report on the daily reality of teaching children with additional needs in mainstream schools and now the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee has delivered its own report highlighting similar issues. There can be no doubt left: there are serious problems with how inclusive education is working with potentially serious consequences for thousands of pupils.

The report by the parliamentary committee focuses on a number of issues, the most important being the shortage of staff to support pupils. Part of the problem is the number of pupils with additional support needs has doubled since 2010 and while some of that increase will be down to better diagnosis, the increase has happened at the same time as the number of additional support teachers in Scotland has fallen – between 2010 and 2015, numbers dropped by 13 per cent.

The Education and Skills Committee has pointed out in its report how this lack of staff is affecting teachers and pupils – quite simply, it is hard for staff to support pupils with additional needs without it impacting on others. If a teacher does not have the support they need, they can spend a disproportionate time on pupils with extra needs, which means all pupils suffering in the long run. That was never the intention of mainstreaming but increasingly it is the daily reality of it.

The pupils that the policy of mainstreaming was designed to help are also being badly let down. As James Dornan, the convenor of the committee, points out, there is still widespread support for the policy of inclusion in principle and it remains a sound idea, particularly because it gives children with special needs the chance to mix with their peers.

But the reality is that, without adequate funding, the policy often achieves the opposite of what was intended, with special-needs pupils being excluded from activities that their fellow pupils enjoy.

The committee is also particularly concerned that the picture may be even worse in areas of deprivation. Parents often have to fight to get the additional support their children need and, as in other areas of education, it may be that parents from better-off backgrounds are more able to make themselves heard and win support for their children. If that leaves parents from poorer areas with a lower chance of ensuring that their children receive extra support, then there is a possibility that the daily working of the mainstreaming policy could end up widening the attainment gap.

All of this amounts to a complicated picture but the Scottish Government should listen to the advice of the Education and Skills Committee and undertake a financial review of mainstreaming as a first step to ensuring that the policy has the funding it needs. As the committee says, the policy still has widespread support, but if it is not to end up working against the interests of the pupils it is designed to help, then it must, as a matter of urgency, have the staff and support it needs.