The cost of schooling East Ayrshire’s most vulnerable young people has soared by around £5.5m over the last five years, councillors have been told.

The increasing number of young people with additional support needs (ASN), which can be a result of disability or health issues, family circumstances and other social factors, has driven the rise of 43 per cent since 2017-18.

In 2017/18 a total of £12.8m was spent on ASN education. That figure has been projected to be almost £18.3m by the end of this month.

The ASN education budget is split into three parts, with the spend on specialist provision rocketing from £5.58m in 2017/2018 to just over £9m in 2022/23, an increase of around £3.4m.

Similarly, ASN transport costs have risen from £1.74m in 2017/18 to just over £3.4m in 2022/23.

Councillor Elaine Cowan said: “There are cost pressures on the service and staff because of the increased demand here.

“It is reassuring to see the amount of effort and work being focused in this area.”

She added that she attended Onthank Early Years Centre, which has operated a flagship inclusion approach.

“There was some excellent best practice that the staff had implemented,” Cllr Cowan said.

She welcomed the input from East Ayrshire’s young people's cabinet in ensuring that pupils’ voices were heard in the development of inclusion.

And she added: “I am sure elected members will support young people getting a voice and bring forward the local politicians of the future.”

Labour group leader, Councillor Maureen McKay, sought assurances that the labour- and cost-intensive project at Onthank could be rolled out.

She said: “I know that there have been concerns made in terms of Onthank in that they are very proud of what they have actually achieved, but they do consider that it is labour and cost intensive."

She added that she wanted to ensure that any rollout would not ‘dilute’ the work.

Linda McAuley-Griffiths, the authority's head of education, acknowledged that ‘making inclusion happen’ was resource intensive.

She said: “There are several brands of inclusion, the first of which is nurture, which is about loving and caring for our children from the outset.”

Ms McAuley-Griffiths explained how the next level of nurture looked at ‘relational practice’, which requires more resources, and explained that there were 20 schools working on this next stage of ‘relational practice’.

This involves both teachers and pupils learning about the ways behaviour, particularly among vulnerable children who have had traumatic experiences, can be impacted by the school environment and relations with staff and other pupils.

A case study of the work at Onthank Early Years Centre explained how many vulnerable children are wired towards ‘danger even when it may appear to us that there is no real threat’

This in turn sees many become unresponsive, confrontational and aggressive.

The Onthank approach has worked towards understanding the science behind this behaviour and how it can be addressed.

Ms McAuley-Griffiths explained that the approach was not confined to the schools alone, with psychological, health, therapy and others coming together.

“In terms of size and scale," she added, "I am confident that, through work already seen in cases like Onthank and  the other schools which have already embarked on relational practice journeys, we can do this.”

She admitted the cost of more intensive support for the most vulnerable pupils, but said the plan was to ensure the work is ‘scaled up’ regardless of resource.

Julie Hope, the council's depute head of education, said that the service expected to reduce the cost of ASN transport, but didn’t anticipate any reduction to the education aspect itself, given there are more children requiring additional support each year.

However, she said that the planned investment in providing ASN facilities in mainstream schools would tip the balance and help reduce the overall costs as more ASN pupils attended.