Attainment rates for pupils with additional support needs have suffered a “deeply disappointing” drop, prompting concern over the impact of budget cuts on children with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and mental health problems.

According to figures published yesterday by the Scottish Government, the attainment rate of ASN children fell slightly across all levels from National 4s to Highers, with the attainment gap between those who have additional needs and those who do not also widening.

Children’s groups and trade unions have hit out at the figures, claiming ASN pupils are missing out on the specialist support they need and are being “failed” by the education system.

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “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.

“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.

“It is vital that those with ASN get the care and support they need in order to give them the best possible start in life and close the educational attainment gap.

“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.”

The data shows that ASN pupils achieving a national 4 (SCQF Level 4) qualification fell from 91 per cent in 2017/18 to 90.7% in 2018/19. Fore National 5s, the rate dropped from 70.4% to 69.8% and for Highers, it dropped from 39.5% to 39.3%.

The attainment gap between ASN children and their classmates also widened at National 4 and National 5 level, however there was a slight reduction at higher level.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, 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 EIS teaching union added that the level of ASN support was one of the most cited concerns among teachers in its recent member survey. A spokeswoman added: “The challenge of getting it right for every child is made harder by a context of austerity-driven budget cuts which have diminished access to support staff, reduced the number of specialist ASN teachers, and decreased Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services & Educational Psychology services.” 

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “We are committed to ensuring that all children and young people get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential. 

“The latest statistics show that 91.9% of children and young people with an additional support need entered a positive initial destination in 2018/19. This is compared to 90.9% in 2017/18. 

“We will continue to support education authorities in their duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. This includes investing an additional £15 million this year to further enhance capacity in education authorities and schools to respond effectively to the individual needs of children and young people.”