New school support staff statistics could risk ‘generalising’ roles

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A reduction in the number of categories for recording additional support needs (ASN) staff at schools risks “generalising” what resources are needed, it has been claimed.

Data on workers who are not teachers has routinely been added to the staff census data collected by the Scottish Government a few months after the data on teachers has been published.

This year, the data was published separately in July.

The release included fewer categories of support staff and introduced a new category of pupil support assistant, bringing together two categories which had previously been reported separately – additional support needs auxiliary, or care assistants, and classroom assistants.

A report published by the Scottish Parliament in 2017 indicated a 153% increase since 2010 of children who need additional support.

Evidence recorded in the report pointed to staffing levels being an issue.

It read: “The lack of resources, specifically staff, was regularly cited as the issue in evidence.

“Of the 143 parents who shared their experiences the vast majority mentioned resources of some form and 87 specifically mentioned a lack of staff and its impact on their children.”

Laura Meikle, from the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, said reducing the number of categories by combining them was a decision taken in consultation with educational bodies.

Ms Meikle said: “The statistics are a very important part of the evidence base that we use to implement policy but it’s not the only one.

“We have an advisory group for additional support for learning, which has within it a wide range of  stakeholders involving children, young people, parents, service delivery people –  a vast array so that we capture the perspective of a range of people when we’re thinking about our implementation

“We have had discussions in that arena around about data in a slightly different way than we’re describing here in terms of this specific change.

“But the information comes through there about the fact that the term ‘pupil support assistant’ is more appropriate.

“The question about the terminology of ‘additional support needs auxiliary’ or ‘classroom assistant’ has been raised in those types of arenas and my team’s discussion with a wide range of stakeholders.

“There’s a concern about a proper reflection so when the issue was raised about the fact that we join these two categories together, I was comfortable with that decision because that has a link back to what our stakeholders tell us”.

Labour MSP Johann Lamont said: “So you’re seriously saying that stakeholders, who are already saying that their children’s description of their experience in school, of not having a full day in school, not being properly supported, the additional support needs that they’re entitled to is being pooled with other young people – are you seriously saying that they said to you: ‘It’s okay to generalise this? We’ll lead policy on anecdote in this group?’

“Or rather than from the evidence underneath which would underpin any policy change?”

Ms Meikle responded: “What I’m saying is that my discussions with educational authorities and Cosla, as part of those wider discussions with all of those stakeholders, led us to be able to agree to the joining of those two categories together.”

A request submitted by Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer for information on the number of “additional support needs auxiliary or care assistants” and “classroom assistants” was treated as a request under freedom of information legislation.

In responding to the request, the Scottish Government said: “There is now greater standardisation of terms and definitions between schools and local authorities.

“There has also been a review of support staff categories in consultation with local authority education representatives and Scottish Government officials with responsibility for support and well-being in schools.

“This resulted in a new category termed ‘pupil support assistant’. This category combines the previous ‘additional support needs auxiliary or care assistant’ and ‘classroom assistant’ categories and better reflects policy and provision in schools.”

Mr Greer said: “This is a fundamental issue of transparency, which the government are unable to provide a credible answer on.

“We know that far, far too many of the one in four young people with additional needs in Scotland are being badly let down and a lack of appropriate staff support is often the cause.

“These changes will mask that continued decline in the number of ASN assistants by merging them into a comically generalised category of ‘pupil support assistants’.

“There is a world of difference between the general learning and admin support provided by a classroom assistant and the specialist support which should be provided by ASN staff.

“We can’t tackle the problem and get the right resources into our schools with this smokescreen obscuring the very real staffing crisis affecting young people with additional support needs.”

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