The number of Scottish pupils requiring extra help in school has reached a record high as campaigners raised fears over a “background of damaging cuts to services”. 

Figures published by the Scottish Government reveal three out of 10 youngsters are now classed as having additional support needs (ASN).

Statistics for 2018/19 showed there were 215,897 pupils with ASN – 30.9 per cent of the total number of schoolchildren.

It came as the SNP was urged to “just be honest” with the public after figures also confirmed there are around 2,800 fewer teachers than when the party took power in 2007.

Ministers were accused of spinning statistics to mask the decrease, while critics also pointed out more pupils in P1 to P3 are being taught in classes of 18 or more when compared to 12 years ago.

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said the number of pupils with ASN has increased by more than 82% since 2012.

He said: “While it is promising that this increase tells us that more young people with ASN are being identified, it is against a worrying background of damaging cuts to services, which has seen the number of specialist teachers supporting those with ASN decreasing from 3,840 to 3,437, a decline of 403, representing a new low. There has also been a fall in the number of specialist support staff in key categories such as behaviour support staff, where the number has dropped by 58 from 2012 (from 180 to 122) and by 43 in the number of educational psychologists (from 411 to 368).”

The spokesman said per-pupil spend on those with ASN has slumped from £4,276 in 2012/13 to £3,387 in 2017/18. 

He added: “This amounts to a cut of £889 per pupil, representing a 26% drop in real terms.”

He raised “major concerns over a lack of resources and specialist staff to support these children and young people”. 

He continued: “It is vital that those with ASN get the care and support they need, which is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly challenging in an environment of austerity and evidence of cuts in spending per pupil with ASN.”

Statistics show the proportion of pupils achieving the expected level under Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has “increased slightly” across most stages compared to previous years.

For youngsters in P1, P4 and P7 combined, the results showed 72.3% achieving the expected standards in literacy – up from 71.4% in 2017/18  –while for numeracy the proportion increased from 78.4% to 79.1%.

In secondary schools, the number of S3 pupils achieving the third level or better in literacy went from 87.3% in 2017-18 to 87.9% in 2018-19, with numeracy increasing from 89% to 90.2% over the same period.

Meanwhile, separate figures show there were 52,247 full-time equivalent teachers working in both schools and in the early learning sector -– an increase of 288 on the 2018 total, but 2,853 fewer than in 2007.

This includes 25,027 primary teachers, with Education Secretary John Swinney hailing this as the highest total for almost four decades.

The average size of a primary school class in 2019 was 23.5 students. This is unchanged from 2016, with schools having an overall pupil/teacher ratio of 13.6 children for every teacher.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said the SNP was elected on a promise to cut class sizes to fewer than 18 in P1-P3.

He called on Education Secretary John Swinney to “just be honest and admit that the SNP record on education is fewer teachers and bigger class sizes”.

Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer said no amount of spin “can mask the fact there are 2,853 fewer teachers than when the SNP came to government in 2007”. 

Mr Swinney said teacher numbers are at a ten-year high.  He said: “These latest statistics demonstrate that our reforms are working and education in Scotland is moving in the right direction.

“I am delighted to see teacher numbers continuing to increase, with levels at their highest in a decade and the number of primary teachers being the highest since 1980. Since 2006, there are now fewer P1-P3 pupils in large classes of 31 or more, which is particularly important as helping children in the early years is crucial to close the attainment gap between the most and least deprived.”

He added: “I am pleased to see we are making progress on equity, with attainment among the most disadvantaged children and young people improving in both literacy and numeracy at all stages of primary education.”