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