'I feel ill sending my son to a mainstream school'

Kimberley is worried Joshua will not get the support he needs at a mainstream school
Kimberley is worried Joshua will not get the support he needs at a mainstream school

Kimberley, from Edinburgh, is one of an increasing number of parents who think mainstream schools cannot provide enough support for their child with additional support needs (ASN).

She is currently looking after her 11-year-old son Joshua at home because he has been having problems at school.

The primary seven pupil, who has anxiety, dyslexia and dyspraxia, is awaiting an autism assessment.

Kimberley says he has always struggled and now she is worried about how he will cope in high school.

In recent years, the number of specialist teachers has dropped at the same time as demand has soared.

The number of pupils with an ASN has risen sevenfold since 2007 to more than a quarter of a million.

That is more than one third of the total school population.

Across all school sectors, there are 500 fewer additional needs teachers than there were in 2010.

Biggest fear

Kimberley believes the support on offer at her local secondary will not be enough for her son, who suffers with anxiety and expressing his emotions.

She says bullying has had a massive impact on his life at primary school and worries high school could be even worse.

"To think about him going into mainstream secondary, it's the biggest fear," she says.

"It makes me ill thinking about it."

Kimberley applied for Joshua to go out of his catchment area to a school which has an enhanced support base (ESB) but there were no spaces available.

ESBs have been created in some Edinburgh secondaries to teach pupils with significant additional needs in smaller group settings.

"An ESB is a lot smaller, more one-to-one and that's where I feel he will progress a lot more and his needs will be met fully," Kimberley says.

"He's not got a chance in mainstream school. He'll just get lost."

Andrea Bradley
Andrea Bradley from the EIS says the situation is at crisis point for teachers as well as parents

Andrea Bradley, general secretary of Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS, says the situation is at crisis point for teachers as well as parents.

She says teachers are trying to respond to the growing range of complex additional support needs, sometimes single-handedly without the assistance of specialist staff.

"We're now at 37% of young people in Scotland with a recognised additional need," Ms Bradley says.

"It's very difficult for teachers to respond to that in a meaningful timely way."

The union leader says teachers need support from specialists such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and behavioural psychologists.

But she says more is being left to schools and teachers to cope with in the absence of specialist input.

She adds that it is a massive driver of workload and stress for teachers who carry a sense of responsibility for the failings of the system.

Jenny Gilruth
Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth there is now more willingness to identify additional support needs

Stephen McGhee, from the Scottish Children's Services Coalition, says the situation is storing up problems for the future when they will need mental health and employment support.

"A little bit of appropriate resourcing now will stop a tidal wave of children becoming a lost generation," he says.

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth says she is waiting for the results of a detailed inquiry into the issue by Holyrood's education committee, before updating the government's additional support for learning action plan.

She says the aim is to complete its implementation by March 2026.

In the meantime, she says there are a number of mechanisms parents and carers can turn to if they feel their child is not getting the support they need.

The education secretary said: "There is now more willingness to identify additional support needs that in the past might have gone undiagnosed or unsupported, and that's a strength of Scotland's inclusive education system.

"We need to work with carers, parents, schools and the broader community to make sure that support is there for our young people."