The number of pupils in primary, secondary and special schools identified as having an autism spectrum condition increased by 55% between 2012 and 2016, new figures have revealed.
The figures, produced by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) from the annual Scottish Government Pupil Census, also found an overall increase in pupils identified with additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland’s schools of 44% since 2012. Now, 24.9% of all pupils have an ASN.
As well as the increase in autistic pupils, the number with emotional and behavioural difficulties rose by 53%, those in care by 44%, those with physical problems by 60% and those with mental health problems by 126%, although pupils may have more than one reason for additional support.
The increase is in part due to increased recognition and diagnosis of these conditions, as well as continued improvements in recording.
In light of these findings, the SCSC, an alliance of independent and third sector providers of services to children and young people, has repeated its call for greater resourcing by local authorities and the Scottish Government to support those with ASN, who disproportionately come from lower income families and areas of deprivation.
It has called for use to be made of the recently announced Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Funding of £120 million, which has the aim of transforming the lives of disadvantaged children, along with the £50 million Attainment Scotland Fund to target those with ASN.
Worryingly, the increase in number of pupils with ASN is set against a background of a decrease in support available to them: the number of ASN teachers decreased by 11% from 3,249 to 2,896 between 2012 and 2016. The number of specialist support staff in schools, such as ASN auxiliaries and support staff also decreased by 8% from 23,734 to 21,935 over the same period.
A spokesperson for the SCSC said: “It is clearly positive to see that we are becoming increasingly good at identifying and recording those with ASN, such as autism, dyslexia, mental health problems and learning difficulties.
“Greater clarity in these figures allows resourcing to be targeted in a more appropriate manner.
“However, what is key is that we provide those requiring it with the care and support that they need, if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap. This is clearly difficult in an environment of austerity and budget cuts, with evidence of cuts in the number of ASN teachers and support staff.
“We would urge head-teachers to use the Pupil Equity Funding, at least in part, to address the key requirements of those pupils with ASN. In addition, as local authorities set their budgets they need to ensure that they are addressing the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”