Our collective judgement is that the Education (Scotland) (Additional Support for Learning) Act 2004 (as amended) is sound and fit for purpose. We are proud that Scotland has such progressive legislation in place.
So said the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Additional Support for Learning (AGASL) in January this year. At the same time, they recognised the need for a review of its implementation in practice.
Not long after that, a motion was debated and passed by the Scottish Parliament to undertake a review of the presumption to mainstream, and how it is working in practice. It is unclear when this review will take place, or indeed how long it will take, but in a letter to John Swinney, Secretary for Education and Skills, on 9th April 2019 the Education and Skills Committee gave a clear view that mainstreaming in practice needs support. While endorsing the view of AGASL, the Committee outlined their recommendations for the review, based on research carried out over December 2018 through February and March this year. This involved a call for views, a focus group with parents, young people, school staff and others and meetings with other relevant stakeholders, with the Committee aiming to see how the experiences and perspectives of these groups had evolved since the publication of “How is Additional Support for Learning working in practice?” in 2017.
Disappointingly, the Committee found the issues raised by parents and teachers who submitted to the last inquiry remain relevant today. The Committee called for the 2017 recommendations to be considered in any future review and were conscious that: “the policy to include is having the opposite effect in some circumstances due to a lack of resources”. The issues raised for consideration by the Minister will not be news to regular readers, and included:
- The Scottish Government should consider ways of improving data gathering on individual school’s approaches to issues such as seclusion, restraint, part-time timetabling, unlawful exclusions, and home-schooling as a last resort.
- A need for increased awareness raising amongst and support for parents.
- For a meaningful assessment of trends in staffing levels, it is vital to have statistics that reflect the number of support staff with a specialism in supporting those with additional support needs. Work to standardise the nomenclature used by local authorities is a starting point.
- A need for a financial review to be undertaken by Scottish Government to ascertain the extent to which education authorities are spending in line with the level of need in their area, and identify authorities who have lower spends.
- The issues with the implementation of CSPs and the associated impact should be the focus of a stand-alone piece of work.
There was also a suggestion that the definition of what constitutes additional support need has become so broad that its impact has been diluted. This may be contributing to an inconsistency in provision. For instance, children who have English as an Additional Language are included within the definition. While there was no recommendation associated with this, the Scottish Government were asked to provide their perspective.
The Committee has asked John Swinney to respond to their proposals by 15th May 2019, and I await that response with interest.
Photo Credit: DFM gets to work on education, Scottish Government – released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence