PARENTS are being left to fend for themselves in the fight to get extra school support for vulnerable pupils, experts have warned.

A conference heard families who demand more help for children with conditions such as autism and dyslexia are often seen as “troublemakers”.

Councils were also accused of deliberately withholding legally-binding support plans to avoid having to commit resources to pupils with additional support needs (ASN).

Read more: ASN pupils on the increase as teacher numbers fall

The concerns emerged at a time when the number of ASN pupils has increased by more than 55 per cent since 2012, from 118,000 to 183,000.

The current figure represents more than a quarter of the overall pupil population.

Over the same period the number of teachers trained to support ASN pupils fell from 3,248 to 2,733 - a decline of 16 per cent.

Professor Sheila Riddell, from Edinburgh University’s centre for research on inclusion, said there had also been a reduction in the proportion of ASN pupils being given statutory help through a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP).

While not all ASN children require a CSP it has an important status because it is a legal document requiring councils to ensure pupils receive appropriate support.

Mrs Riddell told a Scotland Policy Conferences event in Edinburgh: “The proportion of children given CSPs has fallen to less than 0.3 per cent and in some local authorities less than 0.1 per cent and we are being told in local authorities that the policy now is not to open them anymore unless parents demand them.

“This is putting the onus on the parent, or possibly even the child, to demand a document that they may not know about rather than the local authorities doing what they are legally obliged to do which is assess whether the child needs one.”

Mrs Riddell said the increasing onus on parents to demand a CSP meant middle class families, who were more likely to be aware of their rights, were most successful in getting one. And it also meant greater tensions between parents and schools.

She added: “If as a parent you go to school and ask to have your child’s provision assessed you are very easily put in the troublemaker category and parents are very wary of that and are concerned about victimisation.”

Read more: Schools 'teaching ASN pupils part-time'

Jennifer Barr, a solicitor from the education law unit at Govan Law Centre, in Glasgow, said parents often were not aware of their rights.

She added: “Even if parents are aware of their rights they often don’t know whether to ask the class teacher or the headteacher.

“In one case a parent had asked for assessments, but because these went to the class teacher these were never put forward.”

May Dunsmuir, chamber president of the ASN tribunal system, said it was her suspicion that the decline in CSPs was a deliberate move by councils.

She said: “It concerns me considerably that we have this statutory mechanism that is not engaged at the level it ought to be.

“I have a suspicion that the decline of the CSP in Scotland is largely because it places statutory duties on education authorities to review and to ensure that the provisions are met, which is an attractive component of the CSP from a parent’s perspective.

“It is a very great pity to see the decline of something that was supposed to be a supportive tool.”

Cheryl Burnett, vice-chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, told the conference families often lacked the confidence to lobby their schools for more support.

“Parents don’t want to be seen as pushy. We should acknowledge them as experts on their children,” she said.

Under the 2004 Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act a statutory duty is placed on councils to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils.

ASN covers pupils with a range of issues including learning disabilities, dyslexia, a visual or hearing impairment, language or speech disorders, autism and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It can also include gifted children.

In 2016 a poll by the ENABLE Scotland charity found 70 per cent of ASN pupils said they lacked support while 94 per cent felt schools were not getting enough resources.

Previous research has shown pupils from less advantaged backgrounds are more likely to be identified as having ASN, but are less likely to have a CSP.

Read more: Middle class parents get more ASN support for their children

Just 1.3 per cent of pupils from the most deprived areas had a CSP compared to two per cent from the least deprived.

The suggested is that this is because middle class parents have the resources and resilience to pursue a CSP even when councils were resistant.