The First Minister has defended her record against accusations of damaging cuts affecting schoolchildren with additional support needs.
Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard told the story of how the family of a 13-year-old with autism say his education has been disrupted by a lack of teachers qualified to support him.
At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Leonard said: “Callum’s family believe that the teacher in charge of this (additional needs) 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”.”
Mr Leonard said there were 122 fewer specialist teachers under Nicola Sturgeon’s Government but the number of pupils identified as having additional support needs has gone up by over 40,000.
Asked to explain to Callum’s family why there has been a cut, the First Minister offered for them to meet Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney to discuss their concerns.
Ms Sturgeon then argued that, taking into account teachers, educational psychologists, behaviour support staff and home-school link workers, “the overall numbers of staff supporting pupils with additional support needs has increased.”
She added: “In the year 2014, there were 15,871 staff supporting pupils with additional support needs, in 2017 – the most recent year we have figures for – that was 16,600.”
Mr Leonard also called for a pledge to rule out cuts and said: “Week after week the First Minister stands up in this Parliament and claims that education is her top priority, and week after week people in the real world – teachers and parents – get in touch with me to tell me about the impact of her cuts.
“That’s why the budget presented to Parliament next week must guarantee no more cuts to schools, no more cuts to teachers, no more cuts to additional support for pupils.”
“We’re seeing the number of teachers in our classrooms increasing — that’s been the case for two years in a row,” responded Ms Sturgeon, adding: “Local authorities have increased funding for education”
“We see more than 87% of school leavers with additional-support needs having a positive destination which is an increase of five percentage points since 2011.”