The Scottish Government guidance we have been looking at is called “Guidance on the presumption to provide education in a mainstream setting“, and yet it is only now – on page 13 of the document – that we reach consideration of the sometimes thorny issue of deciding on the right provision for a child or young person.
This section of the guidance sets out the legal context in which the Section 15 presumption sits:
- Section 2(1) of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, which requires the education authority to “to secure that the education is directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential” (wording which is taken directly from Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).
- Part 6, Chapter 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which forbids discrimination against disabled pupils in all schools (including a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments). Also, the Public Sector Equality Duty requires education authorities and grant-aided schools to pro-active steps to advance equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination.
- The Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002, which is oft ignored requires education authorities, grant-aided and independent schools to plan, on a three year cycle, for improvements in accessibility (including access to the curriculum). There is some excellent guidance on accessibility strategies.
- The provisions of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, which requires education authorities to make “adequate and efficient” provision for the additional support needs of children and young people.
- The guidance references a requirement to consider the wellbeing of children and young people, but was written at a time before the Scottish Government abandoned plans to legislate for the Named Person scheme. The term “wellbeing” and its associated SHANARRI indicators are, however, well established in practice (and in some statutory contexts).
Different types of provision
It, quite rightly, points out that one of the ways in which the presumption is most pointedly encountered is where a placing request has been made for a special school (or special unit). Interestingly, the guidance refers to placing requests made outwith the usual P1/S1 placing rounds as reflecting circumstances “in which a child attends a school, but it is found that the school is unable or becoming unable to meet the child’s learning needs.”
I mention special units above, and it is worth underlining that a unit or base attached to or within a mainstream school (which cater wholly or mainly for pupils with additional support needs) count as a “special school” in terms of Section 29(3) of the 2004 Act. This has two important consequences, neither of which is widely appreciated:
- It is possible for a placing request to be made to a unit or base which falls within that definition, rather than to the mainstream school itself.
- Placing a child at such a base or unit does not comply with the authority’s legal duty to mainstream (unless one of the exceptions apply) – although, to be fair, the Tribunal’s views on this point vary.
The guidance goes on to suggest a wider role for special schools, which echoes suggestions made in the 10 year strategy for children and young people with complex additional support needs, i.e. “Special schools have a wealth of experience in differentiated learning which may be shared with other schools in the cluster.”
It is also interesting to get some formal recognition that for many pupils there is no one place which meets all of their needs, and who therefore benefit from a split-placement (or as the guidance calls it, “flexible provision”). This is not yet reflected in the rules relating to placing requests, which insist that the parent (or young person) choose one “specified school”.
The point of any provision is, of course, to meet the needs of its pupils. Therefore, placing decisions should be part of a wider discussion about those needs and what supports are required to meet those needs. I would add to this, that the discussion also has to include consideration of the child’s ambitions and educational objectives. Consideration of “needs” and “support” without the context of a purpose for same are – I find – incomplete.
And who should be involved in these placement discussions?
In good practice, this would be informed by key partners such as health, social care and third sector organisations where appropriate. There should be a partnership, multi-agency approach to meeting the needs of all children and young people under the Getting It Right For Every Child approach. Deciding on the provision that best meets the needs of the child is a complex task that requires everyone involved to take the time to get to know the child well and make a decision on a timely basis…
I have quoted that section in full, because I think it’s really important. The authority has the final decision, and the parent can make a placing request, but if decisions on placement can be informed by a group of knowledgeable people from various fields, who know the child well and have their best interests at heart, then this can only have a positive effect on the quality of the decision making and the educational wellbeing of the child.
It’s also worth reflecting that this is not just a discussion about mainstream vs. special school. Mainstream schools come in a variety of shapes, sizes, staffing, skills, specialisms and … stuff (ethos, attitude etc). There are different types of unit or base within mainstream schools, with different approaches and catering for different needs. And special schools are not one size fits all, either.
The features of an individual school, and the ethos and attitude of staff there can be every bit as important (and sometimes more so) than whether it falls within a legal definition of “special school” or not. So, do your homework, get as much information as possible, consult with as many people as you can, listen to the views of the child, and then make your best guess.
Some questions from the guidance which may be helpful for this process:
- What steps have been taken to make sure the needs of the child or young person have been correctly identified?
- Are those identified needs being adequately addressed?
- Would different provision or placement provide a better outcome for this child or young person?
- How is the wellbeing of the child or young person being safeguarded, supported and promoted in their education provision?
- Would a different provision provide better safeguarding, support and promotion of the child or young person’s wellbeing?
And review and revise the plan as you go – what’s suitable just now might not be next year or even next week.
Thanks for sticking with me! Next up is the legal duty of mainstreaming itself, and the exceptional exceptions to it (all 3 of them).