COUNCILS have slashed funding for children with special needs by £874 per pupil over the past decade and are facing calls to take urgent action.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) has called on incoming council leaders to put children with additional support needs (ASN) at the top of their agendas following the local elections.

The group, which represents providers of specialist childcare and education, analysed figures for the amount spent on ASN pupils since 2012/13.

They found the average spend per pupil has fallen from £4276 in the 2012/13 financial year to £3402 in 2020/21 in cash terms. This is a 20.4% cut over the period.

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Just under a third of pupils across Scotland have ASN – including those with autism, dyslexia and mental health problems – and the number is rising.

The SCSC said ASN pupils are “disproportionately drawn from poorer neighbourhoods” and pointed to figures which showed their numbers had increased by 92.2% since 2012. ASN pupils increased from 118,011 in 2012 to 226,838 in 2020.

And teacher numbers have also fallen in the period to their lowest-ever levels, the SCSC said.

Between 2012 and 2020 the number of full-time equivalent ASN teachers has fallen from 3389 to an all-time low of 2860, a decrease of 529 teachers, representing a cut of 15.6%.

The SCSC also said disparities in the levels of funding across councils varied wildly, describing the situation as a "postcode lottery” for parents and pupils.

Funding is as low as £2210 per pupil in the Scottish Borders versus £5901 in Shetland.

A spokesperson for the SCSC said: “It is vital that those with ASN get the care and support they need, when they need it, especially as we come out of the current Covid-19 crisis. This is also key if we are to genuinely close the educational attainment gap as we know that those with ASN are disproportionately drawn from poorer neighbourhoods.

“Given this, it is disappointing to note cuts in spending supporting those with ASN and we would urge Scotland’s newly elected councils to put the needs of vulnerable children and young people at the very heart of policy and funding commitments.

“Councils and the Scottish Government must work together to provide the necessary resourcing to address the needs of those children and young people with ASN, who represent some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.”

The Scottish Government said that while dedicated ASN specialist teacher numbers had fallen, overall teacher numbers had risen.

A spokesperson said: “All teachers provide support to pupils with additional support needs, not just 'support for learning' staff.

“Figures published in December 2021 show that teacher numbers have increased for the sixth year in a row, rising to 54,285 in 2021. This means there are more teachers than at any time since 2008, with the ratio of pupils to teachers at its lowest since 2009.

“The Scottish Government is investing £145.5 million to support education staffing in 2022-23, representing the biggest increase to support teacher recruitment since 2007.

“We also provide councils with an additional £15 million each year to help them respond to the individual needs of children and young people. This has allowed the recruitment of 1,036 extra pupil support assistants in 2021.”