TEACHERS supporting pupils with additional support needs (ASN) were given “totally inadequate” guidance from the Scottish Government after schools re-opened, union bosses have claimed.

The EIS teaching union has warned that the provision for ASN pupils “can’t function while using the Covid guidance”, while young people require close contact and support – warning the two priorities are “totally incompatible”.

The Scottish Government's guidance, published ahead of schools re-opening last month, stresses that "maintaining two metres distancing between adults and children whenever possible will help mitigate risk, but it is acknowledged that this is not always possible or desirable, particularly when working with younger primary school children or children with additional support needs who may require personal or intimate care".

The union has spoken out following a meeting with ASN teachers from across Scotland – who shared issues they are facing.

Other issues raised included a recognition that “pupils need close contact and to be able to see their teacher’s face, or they cannot cope” and that “the level of PPE required is just not there for ASN teachers”.

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Concerns have also been raised that pupils with additional needs “cannot deal with the one-way systems and are unable or reluctant to use things like hand gels.”

EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: “Teachers working with pupils with additional support needs always want the best for these young people and are doing all they can to continue to meet their needs while working within current Covid guidance.

“It is, however, extremely clear that the current Covid guidance is totally inadequate for teachers working with young people with more complex additional support needs.”

“Young people with additional support needs were amongst those impacted most negatively by the school closure period. There is a desperate need for more detailed guidance and enhanced staffing to ensure that the needs of all young people with additional support needs, particularly the most complex, can be met in a Covid-secure school environment.”

He added: “ASN teachers are currently going the extra mile – and potentially putting themselves at greater risk of being exposed to Covid – to attempt to meet the needs of their pupils. Pupils and teachers must have the support that they need from local authorities and the Scottish Government.

“The current situation, with ASN teachers being compelled to clean classrooms, including cleaning up bodily fluids, in order to ensure a safe environment simply isn’t sustainable.

“Pupils with more complex additional support needs and ASN teachers must have the guidance, support and resources that they deserve to allow them to learn and to teach without compromise to their health and safety, and with minimal negative impact on their wellbeing.”

Calls have been made for local authorities and the Scottish Government to provide more detailed guidance and for more staff to be recruited to improve the situation.

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Stephen McGhee from the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, shares the concerns raised by the EIS.

He said: “As a coalition that supports vulnerable children and young people, we share the concerns of the EIS that there is ‘totally inadequate’ guidance and a lack of staffing to support pupils with additional support needs (ASN).

“We know already that this lockdown was disproportionately hard for young people with additional needs and for their families, with a real risk that the attainment gap will be widened. 

“This is against a background of skyrocketing numbers of those with ASN, while the number of specialist ASN teachers falls – a situation we have raised major concerns about for some time."

He added: “The number of pupils with ASN has risen by almost a third since 2012, amounting to some 100,000 pupils, but  there has been a cut in spending of just under £1,000 for each of these pupils and the number of specialist ASN teachers has fallen by over 370. 

 “This lack of staffing and adequate guidance is leading to ASN teachers having to do considerably more with less,  even more so than previously, putting themselves at greater Covid risk .

 “It is vital that the  Scottish Government and local authorities wake up to this situation and provide the guidance and staffing necessary to not only ensure that the needs of those young people with ASN are adequately supported, but that teachers are given the vital protection they need.”

During the lockdown, Education Secretary John Swinney said that "young people with additional support needs have been, and will continue to be, provided with bespoke learning activities".

He added: "We are working closely with local authorities and other partners to ensure all children and young people continue to be supported with their learning and that their needs are fully considered as we look, and plan, ahead."