Deputy First Minister John Swinney is being urged to make sure there is “adequate support and funding” to help school pupils who suffer from learning disabilities.
The charity ENABLE Scotland made the plea as Mr Swinney carried out his first engagements since taking over the role of Education Secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle.
He visited his former secondary school – Forrester High in Edinburgh – after closing the attainment gap was made the Scottish Government’s “top priority” by the First Minister.
ENABLE Scotland welcomed that but stressed the need for more action to help the 15,000 pupils across Scotland with learning disabilities, most of whom are taught in mainstream schools.
The charity is urging Mr Swinney to “listen to the reality of life at school for young people who have learning disabilities” and to make sure a review of the presumption that youngsters with additional needs will be taught in mainstream schools has the needs of those pupils at its heart.
Jan Savage, ENABLE Scotland’s director of campaigns and external affairs, said: “The new guidance must be underpinned by adequate support and funding for delivery.
“We know many teachers and local authorities are working under an austerity umbrella with additional support needs staff being cut by 10% since 2010.
“Scotland cannot continue to cut support services for young people with learning disabilities and deliver on its promises to give them the best possible future.
“The presumption to mainstream, as current guidelines promotes, does not always mean inclusion. Simply being present in the classroom doesn’t mean being included.
“Too many children and young people with learning disabilities are being excluded by friends and peers, by the curriculum and classrooms, and from opportunities and activities that make up the spectrum of school life.
“We look forward to working with John Swinney in his new role and the first thing we are asking him to do is listen to the reality of life at school for young people who have learning disabilities.”
Mr Swinney said: “Giving every child in Scotland an excellent education and improving prospects for all our young people is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s priorities this term.
“Allocating the Deputy First Minister the role of Education Secretary demonstrates the significance that the First Minister attaches to this issue.
“Our children and young people must be given the best possible start in life and I am determined to drive forward this agenda every day that I hold this office.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We will always listen to the views of all young people, including those young people with learning disabilities, to help ensure they get the support they need to succeed.
“That is why, last year, Education Scotland established Inclusion Ambassadors in local authorities across Scotland
“These young people will represent their authority in a range of events and discussions on inclusion.
“We continue to work with partners in local authorities to share best practice and have seen the attainment of pupils with ASN improve in recent years.”