NICOLA Sturgeon has hit back at Richard Leonard over claims about the numbers of specialist teachers in Scotland’s schools.

The Labour leader claimed that despite more children identified as having additional support needs, there were fewer teachers qualified to help them.

But the SNP leader said the overall number of staff assisting pupils with learning or physical disabilities or social, emotional or behavioural difficulties had, in fact, increased.

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During yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions, Leonard told the story of Callum, a 13-year-old with autism, who had to be removed from his classroom because his teacher didn’t know how to deal with his behaviour.

Leonard said: “Callum’s family believe that the teacher in charge of this class did not have the appropriate training for it and so did not make the right decisions for Callum, for his schedule, for his work or for his environment.

“His mother told me that this resulted in Callum going into meltdown on a daily basis. The teacher would shout and things would escalate further. Callum would be manhandled to a soft room.”

Leonard said the SNP had presided over a cut to specialist teacher numbers. There were, he added 122 fewer teachers, despite around 40,000 more pupils identified as having additional support needs.

The First Minister thanked Leonard for raising Callum’s story, and said Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney would be happy to meet with the boy’s family.

The National:

Sturgeon said that there had been an increase in “the overall numbers of staff supporting pupils with additional support needs,” including educational psychologists, behaviour support staff and home-school link workers.

She said: “In the year 2014, there were 15,871 staff supporting pupils with ASN [additional support needs].

“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. We want to understand the experience of young people like Callum, which is why the Deputy First Minister would be very happy, if Richard Leonard wants to pass on the details, to speak with that young man’s family.”

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Meanwhile, the Tories pushed the First Minister to do more for Scotland’s businesses in next week’s Scottish Government Budget.

The party’s interim leader Jackson Carlaw criticised business rates, saying they were “crippling” some firms and putting 20,000 hospitality jobs at risk.

The Capercaillie B&B and restaurant in Killin, which employs 16 staff, had, the Tory said, been forced to put itself up for sale after business rates jumped from £333 to £1750.

Sturgeon said: “The small business bonus scheme has provided record relief to almost 120,000 businesses across Scotland this year and has lifted more than 100,000 recipients out of rates altogether, and the total relief under the small business bonus scheme has risen to £254 million.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Green co-convener and MSP Patrick Harvie slammed Sturgeon for allowing her Westminster MPs to back a “Tory tax break for the fossil-fuel industry”.