The NUMBER of pupils leaving schools in Scotland with at least one national qualification has declined, new figures have revealed.

The statistics, released by the Scottish Government, also shows that pupils with additional support needs leaving school with at least one qualification has also dropped at Level 4, 5 and Highers from 2017/18 to 2018/19.

The data shows that school leavers obtaining one or more national qualification at Level 4 dropped by 0.3 per cent, there was a 0.8 per cent fall at Level 5 and a 1.7 percent drop at Highers. Those leaving education with at least one Advanced Higher qualification also dropped by 1.1 per cent in the space of a year.

READ MORE: John Swinney praises attainment scheme despite gap widening

Additional Support Needs (ASN) pupils obtaining one qualification at Level 4 and 5 dropped by 0.3 per cent and 0.6 per cent respectively – while those securing one pass at Highers level dropped by 0.2 per cent.

The attainment gap between those with ASN and those with no ASN has increased from 7.3 per cent in 2017/18 to 7.6 per cent in 2018/19 for those with one or more pass at Level 4 or better and from 21.8 per cent to 22.4 per cent for those with one or more pass at SCQF Level 5 or better. It has dropped from 31.9 per cent to 31.2 per cent for ASN pupils with one or more pass at Highers.

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A coalition of independent and third sector service providers has criticised the fall in additional support needs pupils leaving school with at least one qualification and pointed to budget cuts as an explanation.

Lynn Bell, CEO of LOVE Learning, speaking on behalf of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, said: “We are deeply concerned about falling attainment levels for those with additional support needs such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems.

“It is deeply disappointing to see this fall in attainment level for those with ASN and that the attainment gap is opening between those with ASN and no ASN in some categories.”

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She added: “Along with the National Deaf Children’s Society, the National Autistic Society Scotland, and Royal Blind we recently made a call for increased resourcing in the Scottish Government budget to support those with ASN.

“While the numbers of those with ASN has risen by more than 82 per cent since 2012, amounting to just under a third of the pupil population, it is alarming that spend per pupil with ASN has fallen by more than 26 per cent over this same period.

“Too many pupils with additional support needs are missing out on the specialist support they require because of budget cuts at a time of increasing need. This is clearly challenging in an environment of austerity, however, the cost to society in the long term if adequate resourcing is not provided will far outweigh any potential savings made today.”

Union bosses have aslo warned that cuts to ASN support is putting extra pressure on teachers.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the NASUWT union, said: "Teachers care greatly about the pupils they teach, but it is completely unacceptable that they are effectively being expected to make up for the lack of adequate resources and specialist support which is needed to meet the needs of these pupils. It is clear that the current system is failing pupils with ASN, their classmates and the teachers working to support them.

"The NASUWT is looking to the forthcoming review of the ASN system, which is due to be published imminently, to identify the immediate steps that will be needed to address the current serious failings and to ensure that pupils and teachers have the resources and support they need and should rightly expect.”

Education Secretary John Swinney put the decrease down to year-to-year “fluctuation” - but praised the statistics showing that 95 per cent of school leavers entered a "positive destination" in 2018-19.

READ MORE: John Swinney: More time needed for exam improvements after pass rate drop

He said: “Compared with the previous year, there has been a slight fall in attainment for school leavers who achieved one or more national qualifications. In any high performing system there will be fluctuation, however over time the percentage of school leavers achieving one or more pass at National 5 and Higher level has improved substantially.

“We have commissioned the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to carry out an independent review of the curriculum. The review will look carefully at achievement in the senior phase so that we can improve further.”