FOR years now, this newspaper has been highlighting the crisis in special needs education in Scotland and calling on the Scottish Government to act, but, if anything, the situation appears to be getting much worse. New figures show that the number of pupils with special needs is at an all-time high while the number of pupils with support plans to help them is falling. The number of additional support staff has also been dropping. In other words, just when they need it most, the support for vulnerable pupils is shrinking.

The scale of the problem revealed by the new figures is shocking. In the last six years, the number of pupils with additional support needs in Scottish schools rose from 118,034 to 199,065 ¬- an increase of 68 per cent. Over the same period the number of pupils with co-ordinated support plans dropped from 3,448 to 1,986, or just one per cent of those with extra needs.

Obviously, some of the rise in those with additional needs will be because of better diagnosis. Also, the idea that presumes all pupils should be taught in mainstream schools remains sound in principle: we should all learn with our peers where possible. However, an educational policy can only work and thrive if it is properly funded and supported and it is clear the policy of mainstreaming has not passed that test for a long time.

As for the consequences in the classroom, they can apply to everyone. If a teacher does not have the support they need, they can spend a disproportionate time on pupils with extra needs, which means all pupils suffering in the long run. That was never the intention of mainstreaming but increasingly it is the daily reality of it.

If the government still supports the principles of mainstreaming – and it says it does – then the only answer is a financial review to ensure the policy has the funding it needs. Otherwise, as the need continues to grow and the number of those who can help continues to shrink, a policy with a laudable aim will end up working against the interests of the pupils it is designed to help.