Potential Energy (Part 5)

Theme 4 of the ASL Review is on resources. The remit of the review specifically stated that it was to consider implementation “within existing resources”. The review report, therefore, “includes limited comment on resources”, deferring more detailed consideration of this key issue to the forthcoming Audit Scotland thematic review of Additional Support for Learning.

Having said all of that, the review report still has much to say on the subject which is both perceptive and helpful.

As the report points out, the Additional Support for Learning legislation came into force prior to the global financial “credit crunch”. I was practising in this field of law even then, and it would have been almost unthinkable at that time, for an education official to tell a parent that there were supports which might be of benefit to their child, but the authority could not afford them.  There may have been a suspicion that finances were influencing decisions about placement and provision, but most of it remained unspoken. Now, it is almost the first thing parents of children with additional support needs are told – “There is no money.”!

What is the implication of this? On one view, it has the benefit of being upfront and honest about the financial pressures which are always at least a factor in spending decisions. It also highlights, as the report points out, the importance of the “policy of early intervention and prevention”, the idea being “investing in public funds at the earliest point for best impact and to save expenditure later”.

Indeed, the report specifically highlights the “value of support services at pre-school stage”, often provided by third sector organisations, in helping children to get “school ready” in terms of eating, toileting and communication.  The report notes that “the continuity and sustainability of these early intervention support services is essential”.  

One interesting point made by the report is that expenditure on additional support for learning is one of the most unpredictable for local authorities. I suppose that must be right, given that a single Tribunal decision (for example) can involve a Council in significant financial commitment over a number of years.  Notwithstanding this, “senior figures in public sector finance” told the review that it “tends to be overlooked at corporate level” due to a focus on adult and older people services.

Returning to the remit of dealing with “existing resources” the report states that “the right values, mind-set and culture are crucial to ensuring that whatever the level of resources, it must be invested in supporting inclusion, not reinforcing exclusion”.  This is a point which picks up on themes and statements made elsewhere in the report.

One thorny issue which arises time and time again in my casework, and in the lives of children with additional support needs, is the extent to which support required might be classed as “educational” or as something else.  I am pleased to report that the report takes a suitably joined-up approach to all of this, echoing the terminology adopted by the Lord President in the case of City of Edinburgh Council v. Mrs MDN [2011] CSIH 13:

these needs required to be stated in a more general, all encompassing and indeed “holistic” way rather than by endeavouring to separate out “educational support” on the one hand and “social work support” on the other

The ASL review similarly calls for a “holistic approach to children and young people, which fully enables delivery of Learning for Life”.  It further recognises that “Restricted or withdrawn support, not just at school, but in the evening, at weekends and in school holidays, impacts on the child or young person’s capacity to learn.  It also has stressful knock on consequences for the whole family including other children and young people.

As many of you know, schools which are in areas of high deprivation often step in to provide additional assistance which “can include practical help around food, clothing and family support”. Most people responding felt this was not an appropriate role for schools, but that access to health and social work services required “significantly higher thresholds”.

Allied Health Professionals & Others

There is an interesting comment on access to support from health professionals and others (e.g. educational psychologists).  The report notes a trend to “refocus professional time into capacity building and consultancy”.  In practice this usually means that the child with additional support needs will never (or rarely) meet the educational psychologist, or physiotherapist (or whatever) who has their case.  Rather, that professional will provide advice, guidance, training etc. to school based staff, who will then use that in their day-to-day interactions with the child.

There are benefits to this approach, at least in theory, as a child will have much more time with school staff than they could ever hope to have with their speech and language therapist – even where resources are not under pressure.  However, the effectiveness of this approach cannot be assumed.

While recognising the principle of building capacity in those closest to supporting a child, the impact of this is limited when there is inadequate time and resource for school staff to fully participate and reflect on the benefits of consultation.

In addition, “a continuing role for targeted assessment, intervention and analysis” not only benefits the child, but also strengthens the impact of the consultation model.

Grant Aided Special Schools (GASS)

As you may be aware the future arrangements for Scotland’s seven grant-aided special schools are (still) under consideration as part of the implementation of the Doran review.  

The report takes a full page to comment on this set-up, noting the “tensions that arise when decisions to place a child or young person in a GASS have become subject to formal adversarial legal processes.”

I have commented on the current funding system in the past:

I sort of regret using the term ‘crazy’ in the interview with TES Scotland, not least because it’s potentially offensive for those with mental health issues, but I stand by the point – that it is a nonsensical way to determine who benefits from state-funded specialist provision.  As the report points out: “the GASS are a resource within the current system, and that resource should be optimised for the benefit of children and young people.”

Theme 4 Recommendations
  • Audit Scotland must use the key themes from this report to inform the scope of their national performance audit on outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs.
  • This must include assessing spending on additional support for learning across services, its impact on attainment and outcomes for children and young people at all stages; highlighting good practice and gaps.
  • The grant-aided special schools and three national centres (CALL Scotland, Enquire and the Scottish Sensory Centre) must use the opportunities of the commissioning strand of the Doran Review to consider how their specialist expertise (including in prevention and de-escalation) can be developed to be complementary to statutory mainstream and specialist provision, in order to support improvement in the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with additional support needs.

As noted before, quite a burden of expectation is now building on the forthcoming work of Audit Scotland in the area of additional support needs.  Having not been aware that such work was pending, I am now eagerly anticipating the reports.

The report’s recommendations for the Doran Review, and the ongoing work on commissioning, envisage a future in which the grant-aided special schools are viewed as national centres of excellence, with a key role in equipping and building capacity within mainstream and special schools alike.

 

Image by dograapps from Pixabay

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