Despite twice as many Scottish pupils needing additional support, the amount of specialist teachers has fallen over the last ten years.

New statistics published on Tuesday show that Scotland has 392 fewer specialist additional support needs (ASN) teachers than it did in 2013. 

The number of ASN teachers has fallen from 3,290 to 2,898 since 2013, a drop of 11.9%.

At the same time, there was a 96.8% increase in the number of pupils identified with an additional support need (from 131,593 in 2013 to 259,036 in 2023). 

In 2013, each ASN teacher supported 40 pupils with ASN. By 2023, that ratio had risen to one specialist teacher available for every 89 pupils. 

And this means that, out of the more than 700,000 primary and secondary pupils in Scotland, 36.7% have at least one additional support need.

This includes those with mental health problems, learning disability, autism, dyslexia, and young carers who look after family members. 

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The Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC) voiced concerns over the lack of specialist support staff and the lack of funding needed for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to students with ASN and their parents. 

They are calling for better support from the Scottish Government, and have questioned whether Scotland should continue to support mainstreaming ASN pupils – meaning that pupils attend a traditional school rather than a special school, unless there are exceptional circumstances – if schools aren't going to be funded to provide the required support.

A spokesperson for the SCSC said that getting pupils the support they need is more important than adhering to any policy lane.

“While we also support the presumption of mainstreaming, which means that all children and young people are educated in a mainstream educational environment unless exceptional circumstances apply, it is clearly difficult to see how this is functioning properly given the fall in specialist support and increase in the number of those with ASN.

“The Scottish Government and local authorities need to work together to provide the necessary resourcing to address the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society."

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Properly funding schools and local authorities to provide additional support for learning will also help the government meet its stated goal of closing the attainment gap, a target that it has been chasing for years.

"This is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap as we know that those with ASN are disproportionately drawn from poorer neighbourhoods.

"With cuts in support, including in the number of specialist teachers, it is going to be extremely challenging to reduce the current inequalities faced by those with ASN."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that steps have been taken to invest in school staff, including increases in general pupil support staff.

“Spending on additional support for learning reached a record high of £926 million and these new statistics show that again the number of FTE additional pupils support staff has increased by 725 (4.4%), bringing the total number of support staff in Scotland in 2023 to 17,330.

"There were also 2,898 teachers across all sectors with additional support needs as their main subject in 2023.

“While it is for local councils to determine the most appropriate educational provision, the Scottish Government is committed to improving outcomes for young people with additional support needs and we have continued to invest £15 million per year to support schools with enhanced support staff provision and £11 million to directly support pupils with complex additional support needs.”

The data comes as the Scottish Parliament Education and Children's Services Committee wraps up its hearings on the state of additional support for learning in Scotland.

The committee has held four previous sessions and heard similar concerns about financing for specialist support, the effectiveness of the mainstreaming policy, and the difficulties that local authorities have meeting their legal requirements within their budget constraints.

On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth will address the committee to discuss the evidence from previous hearings.