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28 November 2016, 05:31
Scotland faces a "lost generation'' of children with additional support needs if funding cuts continue, a network of support groups has warned.
Last year more than a fifth of school pupils were recorded as having some additional needs such as dyslexia or autism, according to the Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC), with many coming from lower income households and areas of deprivation.
However, figures show that the number of learning support teachers has fallen by 13% from 3,363 to 2,936 between 2010 and 2015, while the number of auxiliaries and behaviour support staff dropped by 9% from 19,332 to 17,498, over the same period.
Funding for charities outside school has also fallen, according to SCSC, whose members include learning support school Falkland House, Spark of Genius and Young Foundations which offer residential care and employment opportunities to young people with additional needs.
The group said a lack of action will make it "extremely challenging'' for the Scottish Government to close the educational attainment gap.
SCSC has written to the Scottish Government and Scotland's 32 councils calling on them to "act with urgency, protect vital services and increase funding for children and young people with additional support needs'' through education, social care and early years' services.
It also called for better collaboration between councils and the third sector in order to "maximise limited resources''.
Stuart Jacob, director of Falkland House School, said: "Public sector cuts have already affected vulnerable children and families in Scotland, and against a background of welfare reform any further cuts will have a cumulative impact.
"The cost to society of these cuts in the long term will far outweigh any potential savings made today, and will hinder any efforts to close the educational attainment gap.
"This is why as a coalition we have written to the Scottish Government and all Scotland's councils, urging them to protect and increase investment in services, or face the prospect of a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people.
"By working closely in partnership with the independent and third sectors, councils can deliver the most appropriate care and support to vulnerable children and young people, resulting in the best possible outcome for them.''
Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: "Cutting additional support needs staff lets down the young people needing help the most.
"It's just not good enough for the Scottish Government to slash council budgets and then pass the blame on to those same councils for cutting vital staff.
"Scottish Greens are calling for ASN staffing to become a 'Promoted Post' to attract and retain more talented and experienced staff and for a reversal of these cuts which would make that possible.
"Later this week we will use some of our parliamentary debate time to raise these issues and push them higher up the agenda.''