Labour and SNP leaders clash over figures for specialist teachers

Richard Leonard and Nicola Sturgeon – clashed over teacher numbers.

By Democrat reporter

The number of teachers working in Scotland’s hard-pressed education system will be officially announced this week.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Labour leader Richard Leonard to tread carefully when he asked whether, since she came into office, the number of specialist teachers who support children with additional support needs is up or down.

She replied: “In the last two years, we have seen increases in the numbers of teachers working in Scotland’s education system.

“Next week, we will publish this year’s figures for the number of teachers in Scotland’s education system and Richard Leonard will be able to look carefully at them.

“There are more teachers working in education and delivering an excellent education system for Scotland’s young people and I welcome that.”

Richard Leonard told the Holyrood parliament: “What the First Minister did not say was that the number of specialist teachers who support children with ASN in Scotland’s schools is down—in fact, there are 122 fewer, under Nicola Sturgeon.

“At the same time, the number of pupils who have been identified as having additional support needs has gone up by over 40,000.

“Need is up by over 30 per cent, but the number of qualified teachers is down by over 6 per cent.”

Richard Leonard quoted the case of a 13-year-old boy with low-functioning autism.

He said: “He struggled last year with his move to high school. He was placed in a department of additional support. They boy’s family believes that the teacher in charge of his class did not have the appropriate training for it and therefore did not make the right decisions for they boy, his schedule, his work or his environment.”

The FM said she would pass the case to John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

She added: “The staff who support pupils with ASN includes teachers, educational psychologists, behaviour support staff and home-school link workers—the type of staff who are so vital in ensuring that young people with ASN have a good educational experience.

“In the year 2014, there were 15,871 staff supporting pupils with ASN. In 2017, the most recent year for which we have figures, the number was 16,600. Therefore, the overall number of staff supporting pupils with additional support needs has increased. I think that that is important. We always want to do more.”

Richard Leonard said there were children just like the one whose case he had brought to Holyrood right across the country.

He said: “What they need are qualified teachers; that has been identified in report after report. They cannot wait. They need action now.

“Week after week, the First Minister claims in Parliament that education is her top priority and, week after week, people in the real world—teachers and parents—get in touch with me to tell me about the impact of her cuts.

“That is why the budget that is presented to Parliament next week must guarantee no more cuts to schools, no more cuts to teachers and no more cuts to additional support for pupils.”

The First Minister replied: “The overall number of teachers in our classrooms is increasing. That has been the case for two years in a row, and the most recent figures will be published next week. On top of that, education authorities have increased the funding for additional support needs.

“The local government financial statistics for 2016-17 showed that local authorities increased the funding for education. Of that, £610 million went on additional support for learning, the spending on which was £584 million in the previous year. That was a 2.3 per cent increase in real terms.

“In addition—this is an important point—achievement in schools for pupils with additional support needs continues to rise. Despite their challenging circumstances, children and young people continue to achieve.

“More than 87 per cent of school leavers with additional support needs have a positive destination, which is an increase of five percentage points since 2011.”

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