Potential Energy (Part 4)

Theme 3 of the Support for Learning review is “Maintaining focus, but overcoming fragmentation”.  It is a shorter section, covering only two A4 sheets, but addresses an important issue.  How do we ensure specialist knowledge and experience is available in the system for those who need it, without creating “silos” and giving the impression that additional support for learning is only for specialists?

Evidently, a number of those contributing to the review expressed concerns about “the loss of specialist expertise and practice experience” – with this went a feeling that the system was losing professionals who would act as advocates and champions for additional support generally.

As things stand, there are no legal requirements for authorities to employ specialist teachers for additional support for learning.  The exceptions are for teachers who are employed (by and education authority or a grant-aided school) wholly or mainly to teach pupils with a hearing impairment, pupils with a visual impairment, or pupils with a dual sensory impairment (The Requirements for Teachers (Scotland) Regulations 2005).

As noted above, the “flip side” of this particular concern is that teachers and others in the education sector may come to “believe additional support for learning is for others to deal with – not them.”  If additional support is viewed as an optional specialism, I think that is a very real risk.

The answer, according to the review, is faster moves to “an overall universal baseline of inclusive practice, in terms of values, culture and mind-set as well as delivery models”.  This doesn’t provide all professionals with specialist training and experience, but a lot of progress can be made where there is a willingness to include.  As many parents have discovered, you can amass a lot of specialist knowledge and experience when you are sufficiently motivated (and when there is no alternative!).

However, even the term “inclusion” is subject to risks arising from a “climate of overall low visibility of additional support for learning”.  This low visibility is surprising, given the prevalence of children and young people with additional support needs in mainstream schools.  Nevertheless, to many within education the term “inclusion” is more likely to be understood by reference to socio-economic deprivation (through a GIRFEC framework) or LGBTQ+ young people, than additional support needs or disability.  There has been, says the report, “a diluting of focus and understanding”.

The review returns to the case for “flexible child and young person centred provision” as highlighted in previous chapters, and confirms a need for the “earliest possible access to any tailored and specialist support needed” – but underpinned by “an inclusive culture of values and principles”.

In short, in terms of both delivery of provision and development of policy, additional support for learning needs to be “an embedded, proactive consideration … rather than an afterthought”.  As the review puts it:

Universal inclusion and specialist focus are both essential ..

Recommendation 3.1 – Leadership and Strategic Planning

  • There must be clear values-driven leadership .. to ensure that the experiences and achievements of children and young people with additional support needs are visible and continue to be improved.
  • .. local authority planning must incorporate the implications of additional support for learning for all local authority and partner services.

I’m right behind the thinking here, but these seem a little woolly.  Even if the second recommendation were enshrined into some sort of planning duty, these things tend to fade into the background as they get merged with other statutory planning duties (“Welcome to our inclusion, education, communities and roads plan!”).  In any event, there are already educational planning duties for disabled pupils (a large-ish subset of those with additional support needs) which the Scottish Government stopped actively monitoring some years ago, with a predictable “dilution of focus” thereafter.

Recommendation 3.2 – Fully integrated policy making

  • Children and young people with additional support needs must be proactively and fully considered in policy making and appropriate cross-Government links made at the earliest stage.
  • Children and young people, parents and carers must be partners in the development of key policies and guidance across the system.

It is definitely important for appropriate links to be made across Government (both local government and the Scottish Government).  The fact that the principle legislation on ASL, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 which majors on the need for multi-agency working, really struggles to articulate that concept in legislation for fear of accidentally imposing duties on Health Boards or social workers tells you all you need to know about the extent to which this has happened in the past.

The second bullet point is, I think, key to this whole conundrum. How do ensure that additional support for learning remains a priority when individuals tasked with any given policy, and authorities as a whole have any number of pressing priorities, both legislative, policy and practical?  Genuine partnership with and participation of those for whom additional support for learning will always be a priority – children and young people with additional support needs, and their families.

Image by Jonas Svidras from Pixabay

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