As promised, and following a delay (for which I apologise), I finally turn my attention to the independent review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland. The review was chaired by Angela Morgan, and the report, titled “Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential” was published in June 2020. A formal response from Scottish Government and COSLA is expected in the Autumn.
There has not been much in the way of commentary on the review, with this interesting article by Alison Brown being a rare example.
I plan to take the same approach as I did with the mainstreaming guidance, which is to consider the report in shorter chunks. This keeps things manageable for me, and allows for a more in-depth analysis of each section. As always, my focus is on the legal implications.
What did Children and Young people tell the Review
The report begins with a statement of what children and young people might think about the implementation of the law on additional support needs. This is, undoubtedly, a very good place to start. However, it also laments the smaller than hoped for numbers of young contributors.
The Young Ambassadors for Inclusion provided the headlines for this section of the report.
- “Meaningful relationships between children and young people and staff are important for learning;”
- “A willingness to adapt teaching methods to children and young people’s learning styles, needs, and varying pace and challenge, helps them to learn.” This is also a legal requirement. The Code of Practice recognises that the learning environment can be a factor giving rise to additional support needs (including “approaches to learning and teaching which are
inappropriate because they fail to take account of additional support needs”). The Technical Guidance to the Equality Act 2010 for Schools in Scotland sets out that the reasonable adjustments duty involves “positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils can fully participate in the education provided by the school”; while the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 requires schools to prepare and implement accessibility strategies to improve access to the curriculum for disabled pupils.
- “School needs to be a safe place. Having a choice of calm, quiet or sensory areas in all schools would help facilitate this. Children and young people should be able to choose when they want or need to access these spaces.” Yes, but this should not be at the expense of learning. Managing sensory issues remains one of the main challenges to successful inclusion in many cases. Pupils should not have to choose between an appropriate sensory environment and an appropriate educational environment.
- “All school staff need to have more knowledge and understanding of additional support needs so they can meet everyone’s needs;”
- “Children and young people with additional support needs don’t want to be underestimated for their ability and capability.”
- “More understanding and empathy from peers would improve their learning experience;” Successful inclusion cannot be imposed by teaching staff, still less education officers. It must be a collaborative work involving a whole school community, including pupils and parents as well as staff.
- “Timely responses to bullying were important for children and young people;” As, I’d imagine, were effective responses.
- “Support for children and young people with additional support needs must be consistent. .. all staff should make sure they support a child or young person in the same way.”
- “Communication needs to improve.”
- “Children and young people need to feel they have involvement in information sharing as part of decision making. Children and young people have their own views on what works for them and what kind of support they need.” Independent advocacy to support children and young people in communicating their views is still underused. There is a misconception in some quarters that it is only for use in cases of dispute. For children aged 12 to 15 with additional support needs, My Rights, My Say provides free, independent advocacy to assist children in making use of their legal rights under this legislation. The Health and Education Chamber Tribunal have also been a model of good practice when it comes to involving children in decisions which affect them.
- “Additional Support for Learning needs to be adequately funded to ensure everyone gets the support they need, when they need it.” An Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning is scheduled to start by the end of the year. Which will be interesting, but trite as it sounds, I think the above points about willingness, knowledge, understanding, flexibility, communication and consistency are as important – if not more so.
On the back of this, the report makes its first recommendation:
Overarching Recommendation: Children and Young People Participation
Children and young people must be listened to and involved in all decision making relating to additional support for learning. Co-creation and collaboration with children, young people and their families will support more coherent, inclusive and all-encompassing policy making, which improves implementation, impact and experience.
The rest of the report is divided into 9 themes, which I intend to tackle one by one:
- Vision and visability
- Mainstreaming and inclusion
- Maintaining focus, but overcoming fragmentation
- Workforce development and support
- Relationships between Schools and Parents and Carers
- Relationships and behaviour
- Understanding rights
- Assurance mechanism and inspection