ASN Tribunal launches child centered website

Perhaps anticipating a rush of applications following the recent extension of rights for 12 to 15 year old pupils, the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Additional Support Needs) has launched its website ‘needs to learn’. And very helpful it is too.

The Additional Support Needs Tribunal is set up to adjudicate on disability discrimination claims relating to school, as well as references made under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

In Scotland, most children over the age of 12 are deemed to have the capacity to make a disability claim directly, and not rely on their parents to do so on their behalf. For additional support needs references, the process is a bit more complex than that, involving assessment of both capacity and wellbeing. Nonetheless, most pupils aged 12-15 with additional support needs should also be in a position to access the Tribunal directly.

The recent extension of rights for this age group enables pupils to ask their school or local authority if they need extra educational support and, if they do, allows them a say in how that is provided. This places the child front and centre in their education journey.

Equipping children with the information and support required to make a claim or reference to the Tribunal is a critical part of this empowerment. The needs to learn website sets out to do just that.

The website is easy to navigate and is split into to two main sections. One providing general information and the other aiming to guide a child through the steps required to make a claim or a reference.

The information section has helpful contacts, including that of the My Rights, My Say service, that was set up by the Scottish Government at the beginning of the year, along with that of Enquire and the Equality Advisory and Support Service. Importantly this section also explains commonly used legal terms in an attempt to demystify the legal process and explains what happens once a claim or reference has been made. It also outlines all the options available to allow the child’s voice to be heard through the tribunal process.

The remaining part of the site contains practical information to help a child make an application to the tribunal, be that a claim or a reference. This is a great resource for pupils and their parents and carers alike. Even if an appeal is made by the parent on behalf of their child, then the information section will still assist in explaining the process to the child and outline all the ways in which they can participate in it.

There is a very short time limit for making an appeal to the tribunal (two months in many cases). If you think you may have been discriminated against, or are not receiving the right educational support, then please contact one of the organisations contained in the tribunal information section, or a solicitor, as soon as possible.

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Mainstreaming, presumably.

The passing of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 brought with it a statutory requirement for education authorities to provide education for all in mainstream schools unless certain exceptions applied. This is known as the “presumption of mainstreaming”.

Since then, there have been many changes in education law in Scotland. As such the legislative framework now requires education authorities to consider a wide range of issues alongside the presumption of mainstream education. When considering placements for children, authorities need to consider: the need to make provision of additional support to children and young people with additional support needs; the need to avoid discrimination (including disability discrimination) and to comply with their public sector equality duty; the need to plan for improving accessibility of all aspects of school life (Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002); and to consider the wellbeing of children and young people (Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 – still to be brought into force).

The Scottish Government remain committed to a presumption of mainstreaming, and this consultation sets out draft guidance for education authorities. According to the Scottish Government:

“This non-statutory guidance will present a vision for mainstreaming, building on the best available evidence on inclusive approaches to education. It will aim to touch upon other, complementary policies as part of a joined-up approach. The guidance has been developed to support all local authorities, all schools, and all teachers and practitioners.”

The four key principles are to:

  • Improve outcomes
  • Meet the needs of all children and young people
  • Support and empower children, young people and all those involved in their education.
  • Outline an inclusive approach which identifies and addresses barriers to learning for all children.

So, does it do that?

The principles outlined above do support a wider goal of inclusion. However, the key features outlined to support these principles often fall short of promoting true inclusion. A strengthening of the wording of the expectations is required to create clear and unambiguous guidance for local authorities.

The guidance does seem to deal in generalities and overlooks the fact that decisions require to be made about an individual and their particular needs and circumstances. Mainstream education requires to be properly supported (and resourced) to ensure it is properly inclusive, while recognising that it will not be the answer for everyone.

My view is that the guidance requires to focus on the needs of the individual child in order to achieve the inclusion goals set out by the Scottish Government.

For further comments on the guidance as currently drafted, please see my full consultation response, below.

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, presumably.”

Long division of power

The consultation on the new Education (Scotland) Bill closed on 31st January 2018. The Scottish Government’s aim was for the consultation paper to set out how the proposed “changes will improve educational outcomes for young people, how they will work in practice, and what legislative changes are needed to enable them to happen.” In short, they invited views on whether the changes would deliver empowered schools and a teacher-led system.

The mechanism for achieving this goal can be found in the raft of powers to be devolved to headteachers in the ‘Headteachers’ Charter’. Currently exercised primarily by the education authority these powers relate to the curriculum, staffing and budgets. The changes also propose the beefing up of parental involvement and engagement; pupil participation and new bodies called Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

While the scope and ambition of the proposals are to be commended, in my response to the consultation paper, I flag genuine concerns as to the division of power, duties and accountability. Empowering schools is one thing, but power without a transfer of legal responsibility creates a vacuum of accountability into which bad decisions could escape unchallenged. Throw Regional Improvement Collaboratives into this opaque accountability mix, and these issues become seriously problematic.

For this and other comments on the effect of the Bill as currently drafted, please see my full consultation response below.

Empowering Schools

The consultation document says that local authorities will retain their “overarching duties” in relation to the provision of education. The fifth paragraph of p7 specifically references the following duties:

  • The duty to ensure the provision of adequate and efficient education in their area (s.1(1) Education (Scotland) Act 1980), having regard to the age, aptitude and
    ability of the pupils (s.1(5) of the 1980 Act)
  • The duty to ensure that school education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
    (s2(1) of Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000)
  • The duty to have regard to the views of children and young people in decisions which significantly affect them (s2(2) of the 2000 Act)

There are, in fact, many more duties which apply to education authorities – as I understand it, the legal duties (and legal responsibility) will remain with the
education authority in almost all regards.

The consultation document notes that “In practice, when it comes to actual provision of school education, headteachers and the teachers in their schools carry out
these roles on behalf of the local authority which employs them.” This is true of every legal duty imposed on a local authority and is not a good reason in itself to
consider a transfer of powers and responsibilities.

In fact, as the consultation reads, what is being suggested is that the power to make decisions should be transferred to Headteachers, without also transferring
legal duties, responsibility or accountability as well. There are obvious problems with this separation of power and accountability. For the parent who has a
complaint (or a legal case) in relation to the actions of a headteacher, to whom do they address that complaint. To the headteacher in the first place, perhaps.

Thereafter where? Is there any point in making a complaint about a headteacher to the education authority, if they are not able to direct the headteacher in
relation to that matter? What if the headteacher claims to be following the policy or guidance of the Regional Improvement Collaborative, which is headed by the
Chief Executive of another local authority altogether? Where does accountability lie for the legal responsibilities being devolved?

If power is genuinely to be transferred to individual headteachers, then meaningful (and legal) accountability for the exercise of those powers must also transfer.

Pg 9 mentions a “model of shared accountability” – the danger of this approach is that it can be difficult then to find meaningful redress where problems arise. Unless the Scottish Government actually intend to make each of these three (headteachers, local authorities and regional improvement collaboratives) jointly and severally liable for each others’ acts and omissions, it is difficult to see how this serves to do anything other than obscure where legal responsibility lies.

Headteachers’ Charter

The requirement for schools to work together will be difficult to achieve without first constituting schools as a legal entity with responsibilities all of its own. Has consideration been given to the potential impact of the duty to work collaboratively with other partners on the CSP? Where the collaboration involves a school from another local authority, that may be regarded as an “appropriate agency in terms of s.23 of the 2004 Act. Are the Regional Improvement Collaboratives to be regarded as an “appropriate agency”?

The local authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives, linked with both the school improvement plans and the national priorities. They required to include matters covered by the Equality Act 2010. The local authority will remain the responsible body in law – accountable for Equality matters in relation to each of the schools it manages. Removing that body’s requirement to plan to improve equality as part of an annual planning process is problematic.

Annual statement of improvement objectives also have a requirement re: Gaelic language – where does this responsibility lie now?

Having individual schools create school improvement plans which are consistent with annual improvement objectives set by a larger central body (the education authority) is one thing. Having an even larger central body (a Regional Improvement Collaborative) create a single improvement plan which takes into account and somehow brings together potentially hundreds of different school improvement plans each based on individual local factors seems to me a much more difficult proposition.

Pg 11 states that “local authorities must be able to allocate resource to support the provision of additional support for learning.”. This seems to attempt to draw a
separation between the provision of mainstream education and “additional support”. This is a matter of concern. For one thing, the provision of additional support
is most often done within mainstream schools and carried out by existing school staff (class or subject teachers, support staff etc) using existing school resources. It is both artificial and retrograde to try and separate out “resource to support the provision of additional support for learning” from other resource allocation. To do so is to suggest that additional support is an added extra rather than a core requirement – something to be expected of every school and every teacher – it also undermines the idea of inclusion for pupils with additional support needs.

There are potential difficulties with allowing headteachers to recruit staff, while the education authority remain responsible as employer for performance, discipline or grievance. What happens if the grievance is that the member of staff was not selected for a promotion? Or that they are not adequately supported in their work due to a lack of recruitment to key roles? How does the local authority respond to such a complaint in relation to decisions in which they have had no input?

Pg 13 states that “Local authorities will continue to be responsible for ensuring provision of specialist services and for managing provision of support for learners’ additional needs.” Again, this is a matter of concern. It is unrealistic and a backwards step to try and differentiate “provision of support for learners’ additional needs” in this way.

Additional support is not an added extra rather it is a core requirement – something to be expected of every school and every teacher. It also undermines the idea of inclusion for pupils with additional support needs.

Parental and Community Engagement

Legal duties for working collaboratively with parent councils, and the definition of parental involvement and engagement are said to include a prominent place for
learning in the home and family learning. Is the intention to impose a duty (or expectation) that parents have a duty to engage in family learning in the home? To
do so in a particular way or to a particular standard? For schools to have a role in monitoring or supporting such learning? Such duties will need to be carefully
drafted to avoid creating unrealistic expectations.

Further, one important aspect of parental engagement is the ability to exercise a democratic control on the education authority through local elections. If the
responsibility for children’s education is being dispersed to schools and Regional Improvement Collaboratives, that means that there is little remaining over which
parents (and others) will have the ability to influence by voting.

Pupil Participation

The consultation document notes an intention for general duties on Head Teachers to promote and support pupil participation. However, there is no legal duty to consult with pupils or to hear and take account of their views in relation to these same “specific aspects”. Given that pupils have a right to be consulted on prescribed changes in terms of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, and can exercise their own rights in terms of recent amendments to the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, my view is that the time has now come to formalise the role of the pupil council, especially for secondary age pupils. Statutory guidance to pupil councils should also be issued and support given to ensure that pupils councils are a genuine means of pupil expression and not just a tick box exercise with parameters set by school staff.

Regional Improvement Collaboratives

Care must be taken in embedding these requirements in legislation that the duties of the local authorities do not become diluted and masked. The collaborative areas are so large that it may be difficult to adopt strategic priorities for improvement that are not very general indeed. The next step down is school improvement planning. Given that so many other relevant plans will remain at local authority level (children services planning, public sector equality duty, accessibility strategies) it may be a mistake to remove the requirement for improvement planning from local authorities – and certainly difficult to retain a sense of local democratic accountability.

Education Workforce Council for Scotlan

It will also be important that as a registration and regulatory body, clear and impartial complaints processes are available and accessible for parents, pupils and others who may have cause to raise concerns about misconduct or competence.

The Education Workforce Council for Scotland is an opportunity to make sure that all those working with children in schools and other educational contexts are properly qualified and trained. There is a danger that specifying “additional support staff” or “ASL support workers” as a separate category gives the impression that responsibility for additional support lies only there. While such workers should certainly be covered, it would be important in terms of professional standards that this responsibility is specified front and centre for all those within the education workforce (of whatever type).

Iain Nisbet, Education Law Consultant

Heading to Court?

According to The Herald, “New powers for headteachers ‘makes them target for legal action'” – this conclusion being based on submissions made by COSLA in their response to the Empowering Schools consultation by the Scottish Government. Such a move would be condemned by some, and welcomed by others, but is it true?

Possibly, but probably not.

I’ll explain. The consultation is proposing that headteachers take on a raft of new powers, currently exercised by the education authority in relation to the curriculum, staffing and budgets. These new powers would be set out in a “Headteachers’ Charter”. These changes are part of a raft of changes proposed to the governance arrangements for schools, which also include the beefing up of parental involvement and engagement and new bodies called Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

Now, it is true that the idea of devolving legal powers to headteachers raises issues of where legal accountability lies. I have raised similar concerns in my response to the same consultation (more of which on this site, later). It is also true that the proposals do take us closer to the structures seen in England & Wales, where schools have much more autonomy and where legal actions are indeed often brought against the “Headteacher and Governors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” (or wherever).

Without seeing the draft Bill, it is difficult to be clear on this, but it does not seem to me that this is what the Scottish Government has in mind. The consultation document is full of caveats which strongly suggest that the legal powers will in fact remain with the local authority who will (ultimately) also have the final say on all of this, when it comes down to it.

The law already allows the delegation of education authority functions to school level, and the Scottish Government’s main issue seems to be that this is not happening enough. And, of course, most of the education authority’s statutory functions are already carried out in practice by teachers, headteachers and other school based personnel. But that is also true of almost all Council functions. Most roads duties are, in fact, implemented by individual Council employees doing inspections, maintenance, repairs etc. – that doesn’t mean you’ll be taking Jack or Jill Council-Employee to court if you hit a pothole!

With the Pupil Equity Funding distributed to individual schools this year, supposedly for headteachers to spend at their discretion, what we actually found was that the money was subject to conditions imposed by Scottish Government and then further guidance and direction (to a greater or lesser extent from authority to authority) from Council HQ. The reality was subtly different from the rhetoric.

My guess is that the Bill will seek to require education authorities to exercise their statutory functions in such a way that passes decision making to headteachers in specific areas without actually conferring legal rights or duties in any meaningful way. The Headteachers’ Charter will have the status of guidance, but the education authorities will ultimately have the final say – and will also be where the buck stops. Until and unless schools are given an autonomous legal status, this is not likely to change. If headteachers are in court, it will be as witnesses to a case brought against the Council, their employers.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4874088075/in/photostream/ (Steven Depolo)

Ring-fencing the changes

On 10th January 2018, amendments to the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 came into force, heralding an extension of rights for Scottish teenagers, said to be unprecedented anywhere in Europe. Pupils aged between 12 and 15 now have the right to ask their school or local authority if they need extra educational support, and the right to have a say in how that is provided, advocacy to support them in expressing their views and legal representation at Tribunal should they need it.

To raise awareness and support children through this process providing advice, advocacy and legal representation, a new children’s service called ‘My Rights, My Say’ has been established. Delivery of this service will be through a partnership of Children in Scotland, Enquire, Partners in Advocacy and Cairn Legal.

This a significant development, and one which has been welcomed across the Scottish education community. Concern has been raised, however, as to how this is to be funded. With statistics published by the Scottish Government at the end of last year showing a 55% increase in pupils with additional support needs since 2012 coupled with a perceived downwards trend in investment, that concern is not surprising.

At the same time, the Scottish education system is going through a period of reform, with schools and Head Teachers to be given more freedom to make decisions at a local level. The Education (Scotland) Bill will make Head Teachers responsible for recruitment of school staff, and other budgetary decisions and deciding on curriculum content. While Councils will still have a role in education (including legal responsibility for additional support needs), newly established Regional Improvement Collaboratives will be created to ‘pool and strengthen resources to support learning and teaching in schools’.

In theory, this will provide an opportunity for schools to tailor additional support, but there is also a risk that the system becomes disjointed, and unable to respond effectively to competing demands on resources.

The current draft budget is being debated in parliament, and the question of additional support for learning funding seems to be an issue that is attracting some interest amongst MSPs. The budget contains an allocation of £10m to be provided to charities that support young people with additional support needs; is also includes £120m allocated to pupil equity funding to help raise attainment. However, the Education and Skills Committee are putting pressure on the Government to ring-fence all additional support needs funding for local authorities.

Ringfencing of additional support needs funding allows Scottish Government to control the sums spent on this area.  However, it does not guarantee that the sum ring-fenced will be sufficient to meet all of the needs within one area, nor does it control how or on what that money is spent.  Further it is not always easy to identify what funding is for additional support.  Much additional support is provided by the class teacher – how is this reflected in any ring-fencing?  Do you take a proportion of the teacher’s salary?

Whatever form the revised governance arrangements for Scottish education finally take, the issues of responsibility for additional support needs, and of funding for additional support will remain – like a fiendish Sudoku puzzle – full of numbers and difficult to solve.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/01-17-05_t-m-b/2156513671

Supporting Children’s Learning Draft Code of Practice (3rd ed) – Consultation Response

This Scottish Government consultation sought views in relation to a draft Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice (third edition) 2017 – the statutory guidance for the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2014.  My response to the consultation is below.

Introduction

10 – There is a discrepancy here in how an eligible school child is described.  Here it states that an eligible school child is under school age (i.e. under 5), whereas at Chapter 2, para 14, it states that they will be under the age of 3.  This is confusing and could be better described.

11 – It is important to note that the assessment of capacity and the assessment of impact on wellbeing are two separate tests.  It is not helpful to conflate the two, as here.  A child may have capacity to exercise a right even where it would adversely affect their wellbeing, and vice versa.

Chapter One

2 – Re: foetal alcohol spectrum disorder– the international standard spelling, which the Scottish Government, the BMA et al now use, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  The following resources could be referred to as being useful for practitioners: NHS Education Scotland’s free on-line course/resource on fetal alcohol harm:  http://www.knowledge.scot.nhs.uk/home/learning-and-cpd/learning-spaces/fasd.aspx.

4 – There is no presumption in law that looked after children require a CSP, simply a requirement to determine if that is the case.

12 – The right to request that an authority determine whether “their child” has additional support needs doesn’t read well in relation to young persons or eligible children, and should be amended.

14 – I am concerned that the term “evidence based” in relation to assessment of capacity will lead to delay.  It should be stressed that an authority will usually know the child well enough to make this sort of determination quickly.  A time limit should be set out in the guidance so that children are not left in limbo being unable to exercise their rights.

Chapter Two

2 – The fact that children do not have to be in school to receive “school education” is a point well worth making here.

4 – Throughout the Code, the references to entitlements under Curriculum for Excellence is very welcome.  The reference to learning being supported by “the parents in the home or their wider community” is not clear whether this is intended to mean:

  • Supported by parents a) at home and b) in their wider community; OR
  • Supported a) by their parents at home and b) by their wider community.

5 – In the final sentence, it is not when the authority have determined that they have additional support needs that a duty kicks in for looked after children, but rather, if they have not determined that the child does not have such needs.

6 – Given that there is a duty on corporate parents to collaborate with each other, is there a case for expanding the definition of appropriate agency to include any agency acting as corporate parent in relation to an individual child or young person?  This can be done by Scottish Ministers by regulation.

9 – Strictly speaking, it is the provision required which is assessed against provision made in mainstream schools in that area, not the child’s needs.  The result of that comparison will determine in law whether the child has additional support needs.  (Also in 10)

14 – See comments on Intro, para 10

Chapter 3

1 – A child belongs to the area in which their parents reside, regardless of whether they also reside there.  As a side note, this can prove difficult where a child’s parents live in different local authority areas.  The law does not distinguish between e.g. resident and non-resident parents for these purposes.

7 – The need for a holistic assessment should her be tied back into the ASL Act, by reference to the authority’s duty to assess for additional support needs, and the parental right to make an assessment request.

8 – The terms “least intrusive and most effective” will often be contradictory.  More effective interventions may also be more intrusive.  A concern about intrusion should only be a concern in terms of interventions which may take place in a family’s home or where they have expressed reservations.  In relation to school based interventions, this becomes an almost meaningless expression, which must not be allowed to be used as an excuse for not making provision of additional support for children or young persons.  The 2004 Act does not have any such principle of non-intervention, indeed quite the reverse.  There is a statutory duty to make provision effective, but none to make it non-intrusive.  At the very least, the terms should be reversed “most effective and least intrusive” is slightly better.

9 – Reference is made to a child’s plan, without setting out the criteria for same.  This may be helpful.

32 – The flowchart at Stage 2 and Stage 3 uses the terminology “Situation not resolved and need for further action identified.”  Section 4 of the Act which sets out the duty for providing support does not require this sort of trial and error approach.  While this may be the way in which a need for support is revealed in some cases, in others it will be obvious at the outset that a child requires multi-agency support.  In such cases, there is no need for the child to start out with a Stage 1, single agency plan (as the flowchart implies).

36 – The Code here states that looked after children are considered to have additional support needs unless they have been “identified as not having them.”  This might be taken to mean that the process of placing a looked after child outwith the scope of the legislation can be done informally, which is not the case.  The phrase “formally determined as not having them” may be better.

40 – Considering advice or information from the local authority’s own social work services may not require consent from parents or young persons under the 2004 Act.  However, this would still amount to a processing of personal data in terms of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the local authority would still have to be able to justify that processing in terms of the grounds provided under that Act.

42 – The requires to assess capacity and wellbeing prior to the exercise of children’s rights are here described as “safeguards”.  This is inaccurate.  A better description would be “barriers”.  Please use this term instead.

“.. neither the child nor the education authority may exercise that right.”  The education authority would never have the right to do so under any circumstances.  This is not a by-product of the assessments.

43 – Given that the assessment requests in Section 8 & 8A overlap, it may be simpler to say that such a request can be made at any time, rather than trying to differentiate the two different sections under which a request can be made.

44 – There is a big jump between the second and third sentence, which could be linked by explaining that in the case of an assessment request which is medical, the authority may seek assistance from the NHS.

51 – It would be helpful to outline how long an education authority should take to respond to an assessment request, and how long to complete the assessment(s) requested.

63 – As before, the Act does not require a trial and error approach if it is clear that the support required by an individual is required from a number of agencies.

65 – While is it accurate that an education authority “are not obliged” to make provision in these circumstances, in exercising their discretion, they must do so reasonably and lawfully.

67           Again, where exercising their discretion, an education authority must do so reasonably and lawfully.

69 – It is not helpful, in this document to highlight coercive measures – which are only mentioned in the Code in relation to home educating families.  In chapter 5, para 24 for example, mention is made of parents who will not co-operate with a CSP process.  No mention of coercive measures is made here.

70 – Where the education authority refuse to make provision for a child in these circumstances, the exercise of their discretion may be subject to mediation or dispute resolution.

75 – Again, where exercising their discretion, an education authority must do so reasonably and lawfully.  The exercise of their discretion may be subject to mediation or dispute resolution.

91 – The Code thus far gives the impression that personal support (under CfE) includes additional support, whereas here, there is an attempt to distinguish the two.  Universal support may be a better term here, rather than personal support.

94 – If the answer to that question is “No” then the authority requires to notify the parent/young person/child that their decision is that they do not have additional support needs, and should inform them of their rights to request mediation and/or dispute resolution.

Chapter 4

5 – Children over the age of 12 do not have the right to request mediation, either.

6 – Again, in exercising their discretion, the authority must do so reasonably and lawfully.

9 – It is incorrect to say that mediation cannot be used because the authority have no duty to carry out an assessment. Section 15 of the 2004 Act allows for mediation concerning the exercise by the authority of any of its functions under the Act.

10 – The reason that the parents of a child in an independent school cannot access the dispute resolution process in your example is not because the authority has not duty, but because the matter is not a specified matter under the Regs.

11 – Eligible children cannot make a placing request under the revisions to the Act.  Nor can they make a placing request appeal under the Act.

33 – Where the pre-school provider is an independent special school, or nursery classes within an independent special school, then a reference to the Tribunals could indeed be made to the Tribunal, partnership agreement or no.

37 – Here, the reference to para 33, should include a reference to para 34 as well.

41 – Here, the reference to para 33, should include a reference to para 34 as well.  The “education authority appeal committee” should read “ education appeal committee”.

48 – Where the pre-school provider is an independent special school, or nursery classes within an independent special school, then a reference to the Tribunals could indeed be made to the Tribunal, partnership agreement or no.

The content of this chapter is at great length and becomes confusing.  Could some of this information be presented in tabular form?

Chapter 5

13 – Under learning environment, the phrase “because the appropriate measures have not been put in place” is used.  Care is needed not to feed the fallacy that where a child’s needs are being met they do not have additional support needs, or that they would not require a CSP.  This is not the case.

25 – Where the eligible child is to be informed of a proposal to establish whether they require a CSP, it would be in addition to their parent(s), not instead of.  Strictly speaking, before an eligible child would have the right to be notified of the authority’s proposal, they would be expected to notify the authority of their intention to exercise this right.  How they do this, without knowing that the authority are planning to notify them of their proposal is not clear.  Perhaps the authority should notify the child of their intention to notify him or her that they propose to establish whether or not they require a CSP.  Then the child could notify the authority in return that they intend to exercise their right to receive notification of that proposal.  Then the authority would require to assess the child’s capacity to exercise that right, and whether it would adversely affect their wellbeing to do so, before finally agreeing that they should be notified.  This all seems unnecessarily complex, but appears to be required by the amended Act.

30 – There may be a requirement to notify the eligible child of a decision regarding a CSP as well.

78 – Reference to “paragraph 78 above” appears instead to be a reference to para 77?

80 – Reference to paras 75 and 78, appear to be a reference to para 74 and 77 instead?

100 – The involvement of two or more agencies is not the criteria for a child’s plan in terms of Section 33(1) of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and it is misleading to include that here.

Chapter 6

7 – Section 13(6) of the 2004 Act makes the regulation applicable to “children and young persons having additional support needs” and the Regulations do not seek to restrict this category.  There is no lawful basis for denying some children access to these transition procedures – the authority do not have a discretion on this.  This is incorrect and needs to be altered.

20 – This para make reference exclusively to young people.  For a school leaver planning to leave school at 16, the transition provisions would also include children.

23 – Footnote 70 makes reference to the old definition of “young person”, rather than the revised definition which will be in force at the same time as the Code is published, as I understand matters.

32 – The Scottish Transitions Forum is mentioned here – further detail from the Principles of Good Transitions 3 should be made: including setting out the seven principles in full in the body of the Code.  At the very least they should be included in an Appendix.

37 – The duty in Section 12(6) applies to “any child or young person having additional support needs”. There is no lawful basis for denying some children access to these transition procedures – the authority do not have a discretion on this.  This is incorrect and needs to be altered.

38 – The phrase “best interests of the child” is used here.  In keeping with terminology used elsewhere, a reference to “wellbeing” may be more appropriate.

45 – The refusal to give permission to share personal data with other agencies can presumably only act as a bar to bringing a reference in relation to transition duties to share information.  The other transition duties (to gather information about likely provision etc.) still apply and could be the subject of a reference to the Tribunal.

Chapter 7

7 – The views of the parents are sought even where the child also has capacity to express a view.

14 – How well the person taking the child’s view know him/her should not be regarded as a matter which gives the child’s views extra weight.  The familiarity may bring with it a knowledge on the part of the child of the answer the adult regards as the right one and an unconscious pressure to give that answer.  The best way for a child’s views to be taken is by an independent children’s advocacy worker who has had the opportunity to build trust with the child.

19 – The terminology used by the Act is “adversely affect the wellbeing of the child” – this is not the same as avoiding any adverse impact on wellbeing.  The wording used in the Code here overstates matters.  Particular consideration in the assessment of wellbeing in these matters should be given to the wellbeing indicator of Respected – the child’s right to respect for their decision to exercise their rights must be of paramount importance.

23 – Parents are also empowered to speak and act for their child, even where the child does have capacity – the child may prefer that their parents do the talking in a review meeting for example.

31 – This has been the subject of a Section 70 complaint, in which Scottish Ministers indicated that to exclude a supporter or advocate, the authority would require to show evidence of their unsuitability – it is not enough to have a subject view to that effect.  The parent’s choice of supporter or advocate should be respected in all but the most extreme cases.

37 – Is it intended that details of the Children’s Service be given here?  Also at 39?

Chapter 8

2 – I disagree.  Authorities should not give precedence to their own internal complaints processes over the specialist dispute resolution mechanisms provided for in the Act.  In two separate decisions in 2015, against Highland Council and Fife Council, the SPSO upheld complaints by parents who had been through the Council’s own complaints process. The Ombudsman found that they “had a right to be made aware of the alternative dispute resolution provision” (https://www.spso.org.uk/sites/spso/files/decision_summaries/201302996.pdf) and recommended that the Council ensure parents were appropriately advised of their rights to independent adjudication.  The same issue arises in relation to the flowchart on p135, which also manages to imply that mediation must be attempted before accessing the Tribunal (which is specifically ruled out by s15 of the Act).

 

Picture Credit: By Tss.pk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The right help at the right time in the right place – consultation response

“Scotland’s Strategy for the Learning Provision for Children and Young People with Complex Additional Support Needs 2017-20206 aims to support improved outcomes for children and young people with complex additional support needs through strategic commissioning of national services; with particular focus on the provision of education. This strategy is based on recommendations made in the Doran Review published in November 2012. While this strategy also recognises the critical role played by social services and health in supporting educational outcomes, the strategy is set within the context of The Additional Support for Learning Act 2004.”

The consultation document sought responses to the proposed strategy for children and young people with complex additional support needs.  Below is my response to the consultation.

Responses are sought to this consultation document. I have prepared some comments based on my knowledge and experience of providing legal representation for the families of children and young people with complex additional support needs.

On page 4, I would suggest using the full title of the Act, i.e. “the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004”.

On page 6, the relevant Act for the criteria for a CSP is the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, not the 2009 Act.

On p7, the Doran Review specifies an aspiration that services are delivered, where possible, “within the home community” (this is mirrored on p10 – “locally provided”).

The benefits to the child of having services delivered within their community will be many. However, care must be taken that this terminology is not seen as a reason to avoid choosing an out of authority placement for a child who would benefit from that service. It would be useful to set out what is meant by “locally” and “home community” and to stress that it is not shorthand for the specified area of the education authority in question. I have witnessed the argument being made that a child would benefit from being educated in their local community, when the local authority provision in question is many miles from their home. For a child living in Spean Bridge, Inverness is no more their “home community” than Glasgow is.

The Doran Review also specifies an aspiration that services are inclusive (and again on p10). No-one would argue that inclusion is not of benefit to the child. However, care must be taken that the term inclusion or inclusive does not become shorthand for mainstream school. While the presumption of mainstreaming is legally defined in very mechanical terms, of much more importance is the quality of the experience for the child at the provision in question and how that is perceived. How included does the child feel? How inclusive is the school experience for the child and their family?

A child attending a residential special school away from home may experience that as a wholly inclusive setting, whereas a disabled child attending a mainstream school where she is not permitted to attend school trips and is not selected for the sports teams may find that placement to be the opposite of inclusive. The child’s views should be central to this question.

On page 8, the document states “The decision as to the most appropriate interventions and placement lies with the home education authority ..” But should it rest there? There are problems with the current set-up in which the authority determines the child’s placement, unless overruled by a placing request on appeal.

In my opinion, the ideal would be for a system which successfully places at the nationally funded special schools only those children who need it most / would derive most benefit from that placement.

There is a danger with the current arrangements that children are instead placed at such schools for other reasons, for example:
• because their parents are more persuasive, articulate or knowledgeable than those of other children;
• because their parents’ representatives are skilled in making appeals to the education appeal committee or Additional Support Needs Tribunals as the case may be;
• because with the central funding available, the school is cheaper than more appropriate placements in other authority areas / independent sector;
• because the child or family is at crisis point and suitable social work support is not available, the child being placed for respite reasons, rather than educational ones.

A better system, in my view, would be to nationally fund the GASS schools (not necessarily the same ones as at present) in full to provide specialist places for a defined number of children with particular types of complex / severe additional support needs (as determined by the National Strategic Commissioning Group).

The schools themselves, as centres of excellence in their respective fields, would then be able to select the pupils who would most benefit from the places. Without a shortage of places, there would be no disincentive to transition back to the authority’s own schools. With no financial penalty for doing so, authorities would be free to recommend places for children suited for placement based solely on the child’s additional support needs and wellbeing.

Such a system also removes the need for an expensive, time consuming and stressful dispute resolution process which can damage working relationships and take up valuable resources (time, money, energy) which could otherwise be directed by authorities and parents alike to supporting positive outcomes for the child in question.
The Scottish Government already provides 100% capital and revenue funding for one mainstream grant-aided school (Jordanhill School) and there is no reason why it could not do so with (selected) grant-aided special schools. It would be simple to achieve, would not require any legislative changes, and provides savings elsewhere in the system.

In the first instance this could be piloted in relation to a small number of schools or even a single school.

Also of interest in this context are the proposed changes to the structure of Scottish education under the Scottish Government’s governance review. If the education authority are to remain responsible for additional support needs (cf. http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/06/6880/11) while schools acquire new autonomy for the delivery of education and responsibility for closing the attainment gap – then the current system where the authority is basically tied to offering places in its own schools in all but the most extreme cases could be modified.

Does an education authority, responsible for meeting a child’s additional support needs need to be tied to schools in a given area, if all such schools are acting autonomously?

Perhaps an education authority should be given the broader choice of “purchasing” a suitable placement for a child with complex additional support needs, whether that happens to be at a public school, an independent school or a grant-aided school.

On page 10, the Legislative and Policy Context, bullet point 1 should read “Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004”, and bullet point 5 should read “Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014”.

Page 11 mentions a “3 year cyclical commissioning plan” which would allow alignment with education authorities’ accessibility strategies and other planning duties.

Page 12 notes the need for “proactive collaborative working” – but the current system does lead to disputes – better collaboration between grant-aided schools and authorities would be of benefit to pupils, but can be difficult to achieve on the back of a process in which parties are led to criticise the other’s provision.

Page 13 talks about the development of relevant professional learning opportunities, but there is a strong case for professional learning requirements. The Requirements for Teachers (Scotland) Regulations 2005 currently require suitable qualifications for those working wholly or mainly with pupils with a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, or a dual sensory impairment. Why is there no equivalent requirement for, say, those working with pupils who have an autistic spectrum disorder?

On page 14, the need for a strong partnership between parents and providers is noted. It can be difficult to engage with parents for special schools as there are often much larger catchment area, parents with additional caring responsibilities etc. Could the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 be extended to include grant-aided special schools, or guidance issued on adopting the same system on a non-statutory basis (which could be made a condition of funding)?

I would also observe that there is a need to maintain strong and ongoing local authority engagement where placements are made at grant-aided special schools, particularly in relation to educational psychology services and at the post-school transition stages.

Iain Nisbet
Education Law Consultant

 

Photo credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier/Released)

http://www.mountainhome.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/665693/can-we-take-care-of-you/

Transfer of Additional Support Needs Tribunals to First Tier Scottish Tribunal – Consultation Response

The functions and member of the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland will transfer into the Scottish Tribunals system in January 2018, and become part of the Health and Education Chamber.

As part of this move, Scottish Government have consulted on draft regulations for the rules of the new Tribunals.  Below is my response to that consultation.

Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014

Consultation on Draft Regulations

The First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and Education Chamber (Procedure) Regulations 2017

Part 1

Title of Part 1 currently reads “Part 2” in error.

Rule 1

The definition of “working day” should be revised so as to include days in July.  As things stand the biggest influx of cases to the Additional Support Needs Tribunals are placing requests, which are mostly determined, nationally, at the end of April.  This leads to a large number of references being lodged with the Tribunals during May and June.  By excluding July from calculations of time limits, case statement periods etc. this leads to real difficulties in ensuring that cases of this sort are determined in time for a decision to be taken prior to the start of the new school year, let alone to give any time for a meaningful transition.

While it is acknowledged that there may be difficulties arising from the availability of key personnel and witnesses during the school summer holiday periods, this will not always be the case, and should not automatically be hardwired into the rules.  The Tribunal is able to adjust case statement periods and other deadlines, and to set down hearing dates taking into account the availability of staff / witnesses under other Rules, and the exclusion of July from the calculation of “working days” is not necessary and is prejudicial to the wellbeing of children with additional support needs undergoing transition to nursery, primary or secondary school.

Rule 4

There is no need to distinguish between a lay representative and legal representative.  The current Rules do not do so, and the only practical difference in this set of Rules is that legal representatives cannot be ordered by the Tribunal to cease representing someone, even where they are unsuitable or the interests of justice so require.

Given that the Scottish Government’s policy is to promote the use of lay advocacy (as opposed to legal advocacy) at the Tribunals, it seems odd that the Rules should promote the use of legal representatives in this way.

Rule 5

The proposed role of a supporter in quietly advising on points of law and procedure would seem to be unnecessary in a system where lay representation is permitted, and public funding is available (in both the Tribunal’s jurisdictions) to allow those of limited means to be represented free of charge.

Rule 6

These rules on expenses differ from those currently in place.  In particular, they do not allow for expenses to be awarded whether the original decision or conduct challenged was wholly unreasonable.  The Tribunals have had cause to award expenses on this basis on at least one occasion (cf. https://www.asntscotland.gov.uk/sites/default/files/decisions/ASNTS_D_05_2009_16.07.09.doc) and it does provide the Tribunal the ability to recognise in an award of expenses unreasonable conduct which has led to a reference or claim being required, rather than just unreasonable conduct during the Tribunal procedure itself.

Rule 7

In my view, it is not appropriate for a staff member of the SCTS to carry out the judicial functions of the Tribunal.  Such a staff member would not have been through the requisite appointment process that Tribunal members and legal members have, nor would they necessarily be familiar with the context (additional support needs or disability in education) in which the decision was to be taken.

Rule 9

At present no request for permission is required before an appeal of a decision of the Tribunal is possible.  I am not clear that there is any evidence that there is a need for this kind of barrier to appeals to be introduced.  The number of appeals of decisions of the Additional Support Needs Tribunals every year is very low.  There have been no such appeals reported on the scotcourts.gov.uk website this year.  There was one in 2016, and none in 2014 or 2015.

The law in this area is still relatively underdeveloped and placing further barriers in the way of appeals being progressed could hinder the law’s development and opportunities to clarify the law.

Rule 12

Rule 12 is within Part 1, which are the general provisions, applying both to additional support needs cases and those brought under the Equality Act 2010.  Should there not therefore be an alternative provision allowing the monitoring of First-tier Tribunal decisions which require an independent or grant-aided school to do anything (as a responsible body under the Equality Act 2010)?

There would not necessarily need to be an equivalent to Rule 12(b) in relation to independent or grant-aided schools, but one could be devised where the President might refer such matters to HMIe / Education Scotland.

Part 2

Rule 14

(6) – To comply with a two month deadline in relation to a deemed refusal requires the parent to be aware of the law as it relates to this matter.  In my experience, most parents are not aware of the effects of the Additional Support for Learning (Placing Requests and Deemed Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2005.  Particular flexibility needs to be given where parents only become aware of the position at some later stage.

(7) – Where there is an ongoing failure, then the two month deadline should operate as a rolling deadline, i.e. two months from the latest date on which the failure continued.  Otherwise there can be situations where the authority fail to prepare or review a CSP, and continue to fail to do so.  If no reference can be made after two months of failure, then the preparation or review may never be undertaken and the parent has no remedy by way of reference to the Tribunal.

Rule 17

(3) – First mention of the child’s views is here – but the draft Rules do not make any reference to the support service for children to be set up under Section 31A of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, which has a specific role in obtaining children’s views in the context of Tribunal proceedings.

Rule 19

(2)(g) – Again, there is no reference to the children’s support service re: child’s views.

(5) – The test to amend the authority’s response is “in exceptional circumstances”, whereas the test found in Rule 39(3) for the authority to rely on grounds not found in its response is the lesser “fair and just to do so” test.  This seems contradictory and potentially encourages a change of tack to be undertaken at a later stage in proceedings, rather than earlier.

Rule 29

(1) – In practical terms, both sides are frequently in the position where the extension of time (particularly) for lodging of documents etc is required.  The Tribunal are good in taking a pragmatic approach to this.  The test of “exceptional circumstances” seems too high.  It is wholly unexceptional for new information to become available in relation to a child’s education during the currency of a Tribunal case.

It also conflicts with the test applied for trying to lodge documents at the start of a hearing (Rule 45) which is “fair and just to do so” – again this potentially encourages parties to delay lodging documents to the day of the hearing, which cannot be a smart idea.

Rule 33

(5)(b) – This provides for expenses of attendance for witnesses called by the parties.  Should there be an equivalent rule to provide for the payment of expenses for witnesses called by the Tribunal under Rules 34 or 35?

(6) The equivalent Rule 85 for claims, specifies that the witness count does not include the claimant themselves.  Is the implication that the two witnesses here do include the appellant and/or the authority’s primary attendee?  If so, this has not been the practice of Tribunals to date.

Rule 35

(2) – The education authority for the area to which the child belongs would not always be the relevant extra authority to call.  The circumstances in which the “home” authority would be needed (and not already the main authority in the case) would be most likely a placing request for an out of authority placement.  The purpose of calling the “home” authority would be that they would know about the child’s current schooling and needs.  However, the child would not necessarily be at a school in their home area.  A child who lives in Glasgow and attends school in East Renfrewshire, whose parents make a placing request for a new school in South Lanarkshire would be ill-served by this rule.  The benefit to the Tribunal would be in being able to call East Renfrewshire, not Glasgow (as this Rule would suggest).

A rewording to allow the Tribunal to call the education authority which is currently (or about to be) responsible for the child’s school education – either instead of or in addition to the current wording would avoid the above problem.

Rule 37

(4)(b) – The implication here is that decisions in cases where there is no hearing must be taken by the legal member alone.  Would it not be preferable for the option to exist for these to be taken by the Tribunal as well?  This would allow access to the non-legal members’ expertise in the field of additional support needs to be applied to the decision in relevant cases.

Rule 38

(7)(c) – Does this mean a supporter in terms of Rule 5?  Or someone in addition to that?  If it is a supporter, that term should be used to avoid confusion.

Should a reference to the children’s support service (s31A, 2004 Act) be explicitly included here?

Rule 39

(3)(b) – Cf. comments on Rule 19(5) earlier.

Rule 43 & 44

Rule 44 should include the power similar to one found in Rule 43 to appoint a suitable person to facilitate the seeking of views of the child.  A reference to the children’s support service (s31A, 2004 Act) would be pertinent here.  The person so appointed should then be added to the list of those permitted to attend a hearing in Rule 38(7).

Part 3

Rule 61

(3) – This rule places the onus on notifying the Equality and Human Rights Commission with the claimant.  Given that many claimants may be unrepresented, this is an easy thing to miss.  It would be better to require the Tribunal to pass a copy of the claim to the Commission.

(4) – There is missing from the six months time limit provisions equivalent to Sections 118(6) and 123(3) of the Equality Act 2010 that “conduct extending over a period” is to be treated as done at the end of that period.  The absence of this potentially leaves those bring claims to the Tribunal at a disadvantage compared with those bringing similar claims to the Civil Courts or Employment Tribunals.

(5) – Section 27 of the Equality Act 2006 has been omitted by virtue of Section 64(1)(b) of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

Rule 66

(5) – The test to amend the responsible body’s response is “in exceptional circumstances”, whereas the test found in Rule 85(4) for the responsible body to rely on grounds not found in its response is the lesser “fair and just to do so” test.  This seems contradictory and potentially encourages a change of tack to be undertaken at a later stage in proceedings, rather than earlier.

Rule 75

(1) – In practical terms, both sides are frequently in the position where the extension of time (particularly) for lodging of documents etc is required.  The Tribunal are good in taking a pragmatic approach to this.  The test of “exceptional circumstances” seems too high.  It is wholly unexceptional for new information to become available in relation to a child’s education during the currency of a Tribunal case.

It also conflicts with the test applied for trying to lodge documents at the start of a hearing (Rule 90) which is “fair and just to do so” – again this potentially encourages parties to delay lodging documents to the day of the hearing, which cannot be a smart idea.

Rule 83

(4)(b) – The implication here is that decisions in cases where there is no hearing must be taken by the legal member alone.  Would it not be preferable for the option to exist for these to be taken by the Tribunal as well?  This would allow access to the non-legal members’ expertise in the field of disability to be applied to the decision in relevant cases.

Rule 84

(7)(c) – Does this mean a supporter in terms of Rule 5?  Or someone in addition to that?  If it is a supporter, that term should be used to avoid confusion.

Rule 85

(4)(b) – Cf. comments on Rule 66(5) earlier.

Rule 89

Rule 89 does not include an equivalent duty on the Tribunal to that found in Rule 44, i.e. to seek the views of the child (presumably only necessary where the child is not a party to proceedings).  Where this duty is introduced, it should include the power similar to one found here to appoint a suitable person to facilitate the seeking of such views.  A person so appointed should then be added to the list of those permitted to attend a hearing in Rule 84(7).

 

Respondent Information

Iain Nisbet, Education Law Consultant

Anti-Bullying Policies at School

A recent decision of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) provides a useful reminder of the importance of schools having and implementing their own anti-bullying policies.

The complaint, against the Highland Council, was that they had failed to ensure that the school attended by the complainant’s daughter had an anti-bullying policy in place. The SPSO upheld the complaint. Although the Council’s own policy was thorough, the Ombudsman found that the school did not have its own policy in place that sufficiently met the requirements of the council’s policy.

The SPSO recommended that the council:

  • apologise to Miss C and Miss A for the failings identified in this case; and
  • reflect on the failings identified and advise us of the actions they will take to address these.

A National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People” (Scottish Government, 2010) was drawn up by the Scottish Anti-Bullying Steering Group (SABS) which included representation from a number of relevant public and voluntary sector bodies.

The National Approach adopts a definition of bullying which is focussed on its impact on those experiencing it:

“Bullying can be understood as behaviour which leaves people feeling helpless, frightened, anxious, depressed or humiliated.” (p4)

It sets anti-bullying firmly in the context of GIRFEC and the Curriculum for Excellence, and adopts as one of its key principles:

“We will seek to prevent and tackle bullying, through the development and implementation of effective anti-bullying policies and practices … We will address the needs of children and young people who are bullied as well as those who bully within a framework of respect, responsibility, resolution and support” (p8)

A school’s anti-bullying policy and practice are therefore seen as the main ways in which preventing and tackling bullying is done.

The National Approach is clear that all organisations that work with children and young people should develop and implement an anti-bullying policy.

It goes on to specify that anti-bullying policies should include the following (p9):

  • a statement which lays out the organisational stance on bullying behaviour;
    a definition of bullying, developed through consultation creating a shared understanding between all parties involved;
  • expectations or codes of behaviour and responsibilities for staff and children and young people;
  • preventative and reactive strategies showing what an organisation commits itself to, what strategies it will employ when faced with bullying incidents or allegations and to prevent bullying from happening;
  • clarity on how and how often the organisation will communicate its anti-bullying policy and to whom; and how parents and carers will be informed of incidents;
  • the recording and monitoring strategies that will be used for management purposes; and
  • how and how often the policy will be evaluated to understand how successful and effective the policy is.

By following the National Approach, schools will be best placed to create a strong anti-bullying ethos and to respond effectively to incidents of bullying as they arise.

Image credit: By Alejandrasotomange (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Governance Review – Consultation Response

Response to Consultation
“Empowering Teachers, Parents and Communities to Achieve Excellence and Equity in Education” – A Governance Review

Introduction

1. My purpose in responding is to highlight certain legal issues which arise. It is hoped that these comments may be of assistance to those considering these matters.

2. Education law in Scotland already affords education authorities and Scottish Ministers a degree of flexibility in terms of governance arrangements. For example, section 24 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 allows for education authorities to make payments to independent schools or to other bodies providing education or education services, allowing authorities to procure educational services from third party providers in the voluntary sector. The section contains a mechanism for allowing authority representation on the boards or other governing bodies of such schools. Similarly, section 73 allows the Scottish Ministers to make payment of grants to schools (and other educational establishments) for the provision of education or education services. Section 74 allows such payments to be made subject to conditions. This is how Jordanhill School is funded, for example. Seven grant-aided special schools are also funded in this way, although this system is currently under review, following the Doran Review.

3. Scottish Government have a commitment to “empower schools and decentralise management and support through school clusters and the creation of new educational regions.” The creation of new educational regions will assist in delivering decentralisation if the bodies are taking on existing Scottish Ministers functions. If the proposal, however, is that educational regions take on local government functions, then that would be a process of centralisation, not decentralisation.

4. The consultation document contains “a presumption that decisions about individual children’s learning and school life should be taken at a school level”. However, section 28 of the 1980 Act sets out the general principle that children are to be educated “in accordance with the wishes of their parents” (subject to important caveats as to suitable instruction and public expenditure). The presumption in law is that decisions about individual children’s learning should be taken by their parents – and not by the school. In any event, a legal presumption of this sort – if that is what is being suggested – would require a significant structural alteration. At present, local authority schools do not have a separate legal identity – they exist only as part of the authority. This would probably need to change if this presumption were to be given legal force. There would also need to be clarity as to what is meant by “at school level” – does this mean by the Head Teacher acting alone? Or by a board or governors? Or something else?

5. The consultation document’s list of organisations involved in the governance of education does not take into account the UK context. There are pieces of UK legislation which significantly affect Scottish education, and which need to be considered. The best example would be the Equality Act 2010 – which is of particular relevance to disabled pupils and those with other protected characteristics. At present the education authority is the “responsible body” in terms of equality law for all public schools. Any proposed change to this positon would require an amendment to this Westminster legislation. That same list does not mention independent special schools or grant-aided special schools, which educate a number of children and young persons with additional support needs for whose school education the authority remain responsible. The impact of any changes to governance arrangements on pupils educated in these contexts will need to be carefully considered.

6. The emphasis on accountability in the OECD summary re: effective governance and successful reform is welcome. The current picture of legal accountability for education duties is disparate and inconsistent, with accessible remedies available in some aspects and none at all in others. The pending establishment of an education chamber within the Scottish Tribunals is an opportunity to have a single route of accountability available for children, parents and young people in relation to their education.

Empowering teachers, practitioners, parents, schools and communities

7. At p9, the document states “We want to see more decisions about school life being driven by schools themselves.” As I mention above, this should not be allowed to override the existing legislative general principle that children are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of the parents.

8. As the document goes on to say, devolved school management already exists and can be used to ensure that some management and funding decisions are already taken at that level.

9. The document goes on to propose that legal responsibilities for delivering education and raising standards should be extended to schools (and teachers / head teachers?). To do so would require each school to have its own separate legal identity. The most likely form would be that the school would be constituted and have a managing or governing board of some sort. Parent Councils as currently legislated for, would not be able to fulfil this role (still less, Parent Forums) although legislative changes could be made to allow this. There would also be required legislation governing the relationship between these more autonomous schools and the education authority, the proposed educational regions and the Scottish Ministers. This is no small task and would involve a fundamental rewrite of much of Scots education law. The form of the governing bodies would require careful thought as well. Currently education authorities are subject to democratic oversight and control through local government elections. Even if new boards of governors are to be made by election, the reality is that many schools struggle to get sufficient volunteers for a full Parent Council, let alone to make elections worthwhile. It may be more difficult to attract volunteers in the event that legal accountability is a feature of such bodies.

10. There can also be real benefits to having decisions taken on a strategic basis at education authority level, and unintended consequences which may arise from devolving powers to schools. It has been measures taken by education authorities which have been responsible for the reduction in the numbers of exclusions, rather than (on the whole) schools acting individually. Duties like the duty to provide alternative education where a pupil has been permanently excluded from a school would require to remain at authority level as well. To give another example, the duty to plan for improvements to school accessibility by way of an Accessibility Strategy is one which lies with the education authority. There is one plan for all the authority’s schools. The guidance allows for authorities to specialise, to have one school which is particularly accessible for pupils with a particular disability, which allows for a more efficient use of resources. If each school was to be responsible for these duties directly, then this concentration of supports and resources would not be possible.

11. The empowerment of children and young people within schools is not only beneficial, it is also an obligation in terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some local government education committees already include pupil representation, and a statutory requirement to pupil membership/representation (alongside parental membership) of schools’ governing bodies (whatever form they take) would be a real step forward in this area.

12. Devolving decision making to “teachers, schools and communities” sounds like a proposal for new boards of governors with staff and parent or community membership or input. If that is the case, then the devolution is actually to the board or other similar body – and the devolution to parents etc. only then works so long as the board is representative of the wider parent body / staff group / community. Support would be needed to encourage and facilitate involvement, and to ensure that boards or similar bodies are both representative and diverse.

Strengthening ‘the middle’ – how teachers, practitioners, schools and other local and regional partners work together to deliver education

13. Collaboration within education is undoubtedly a good idea, but the idea of mutual or collective responsibility for improvement and results is more problematic. Certainly, it should not be attempted to put this on a legal footing. A legal accountability across clusters and networks would be impractical, to say the least. Whether it is put on a legal footing or not, the danger is that in sharing accountability, there is no one body who is themselves accountable. From a desire to make everyone accountable, you can end up with nobody being accountable. Many parents of children with additional support needs are already familiar with being directed from education authority to school and back again in search of support, answers etc.

14. For children with additional support needs in particular, the key collaborations are often not just with other schools, but with colleagues in social work, associated health professionals and CAMHS teams. Co-locating relevant professionals, akin to the New Community Schools pilot from the early 2000’s, would allow for the co-ordination and availability of specialist support for children who most need it.

15. It is not clear from the document what the purpose or role of educational regions would be. There are numerous examples of education authorities working together to share best practice etc. Even if it were thought to require a renewed emphasis, the setting up of educational regions as an additional layer in the system is not obviously the best answer. As stated above, if the educational regions are to take on Scottish Government functions, then this could be seen as decentralisation of a sort. If they are to take over education authority functions, then the reverse would be true. There is also the possibility of future funding disputes, which particularly affect children with additional support needs – is the cost of additional support going to come from a school budget? Or an authority budget? Or the regional budget?

A clear national framework and building professional capacity in education

16. On p 13 it states “National government is responsible for setting clear priorities for Scottish education”. This has been the case since National Priorities for Education were introduced in 2001. Latterly Scottish Government stopped monitoring the priorities and the measures attached to them. The National Priorities have been replaced and updated as part of the National Improvement Framework. It is disappointing to see additional support needs falling off this list of priorities at this stage.

Fair funding – learner-centred funding

17. The nature of the funding formula is of great importance if the aim of equity is to be achieved. In the event that funding and responsibility is devolved to a school level, then careful management will be required in order that we do not end up with a situation where there is a financial incentive to reject or exclude pupils with additional support needs whose education is the most expensive to provide.

18. One obvious way of countering this would be to ensure that funding was indeed truly learner-centred by a) reflecting the cost of making provision for the child’s individual needs and b) following the child. Done on an individual basis, this would require a much more detailed and widespread system of statutory education planning than is in place at the moment. This does introduce more complexity into the system, however. A system of pupil premiums as operated in England & Wales, might be a more broad brush method of achieving similar goals.

Accountability

19. As mentioned above, the current picture of legal accountability for education duties is disparate and inconsistent, with accessible remedies available in some aspects and none at all in others. The pending establishment of an education chamber within the Scottish Tribunals is an opportunity to have a single route of accountability available for children, parents and young people in relation to their education.

Respondent Information
Iain Nisbet
Education Law Consultant