Taking Stock – the Audit Scotland education report

Audit Scotland have just published “Improving outcomes for young people through school education”, a report which started out looking at how effectively the Scottish Government and local authorities were improving outcomes for young people, and ended up considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the responses to that. The report covers both issues, up to around January 2021.

The report is not focused on additional support needs, and there is much which is to do with the process of collecting data and evidence. Which is important, but probably not what you want to read about. I will therefore take you through the edited highlights as they are relevant to children and young people with additional support needs and their families.

Introduction

The report forms part of a body of work, which includes recent reports on school education (2014), children and young people’s mental health (2018), and early learning and childcare (2018 & 2020). Audit Scotland are also considering potential future reports on “The effectiveness of actions to improve outcomes for young people with additional support needs and to mitigate the impact of Covid-19” and “Action taken in response to the findings of the Independent Care Review to improve outcomes for care-experienced children and young people”, among other related topics.

In considering relevant stakeholders in improving outcomes, it was gratifying to see recognition of the Third Sector (“Delivers a wide range of intensive support to help families, children and young people”) and Advocacy Services (“Represent the views of children and young people to national governments, agencies, councils and schools as a way of enabling them to shape the policies which affect them”).

Outcomes

The report notes that “An emphasis on measures of attainment in exams, while important, fails to recognise and promote the the broader aims of [Curriculum for Excellence] and value the wider achievements of young people.” In doing so it echoes one of the key recommendations from the ASL Review: “The achievements and successes of children and young people with additional support needs must be celebrated publicly, in equivalence to attainment and exam results.”

While the report does not look specifically at the outcomes of pupils with additional support needs, it does note that “available research shows that Covid-19 has had additional detrimental impacts on these children and young people. For example, some parents and carers of children who need [additional support for learning] have found it particularly challenging to support their learning at home, and care-experienced children and young people are more likely to face challenges with distance learning.”

That said, there is also a recognition that “some children found it easier to learn remotely”. This point is picked up again later in the report.

Inequalities

This section of the report is primarily looking at efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap. However, I did note the following with interest: “Schools and councils have also employed or contracted additional specialist support such as family link workers and speech and language therapists.” The employment of speech and language therapists by individual schools using their Attainment Scotland Fund money is an interesting development, and one I will be looking out for from now on.

Working together to improve outcomes

As noted above, the move to remote learning has been welcomed by some children and young people:

Some children, for example those who need [additional support for learning] and those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), struggle to cope with school full time. Some of these children found the remote learning during lockdown a relief from some of the stress and sensory overload of school. These children may benefit from a blended learning model in the future. The Scottish Government, Education Scotland and councils intend to look further at the potential of the national remote learning offer beyond the pandemic.

para. 113

This is fantastic news, and will be of real benefit to many learners with additional support needs. However, note the description of the problem here as “children [who] struggle to cope with school full time” as opposed to, say, “schools which struggle to meet the needs of all children”.

The report recognises the importance of pupil engagement, while noting that having a pupil council is not the same thing as pupils’ voices actually being heard. It also highlights the particular difficulty that black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils have in have their voices listened to and valued.

Overall, there is work still to be done here: “There is scope for the Scottish Government and councils to be more proactive in communicating with children and young people about how their views have then been taken into account in the decision-making process.”

Spending on education

Overall, during the period from 2013/14 to 2018/19, ASL spending in real terms has increased by 8.2%. Within this, spending on additional support for learning in mainstream schools has fallen, while spending on additional support for learning in special schools has increased. This seems counter-intuitive, and cannot be of assistance in continuing to improve delivery of the presumption of mainstreaming.

What has this money been spent on? Some of it has gone on support staff: “The number of support staff increased between 2017 and 2019, particularly pupil support assistants, behavior support staff and home-school link workers.


One of the recommendations (4.1) from the ASL Review is that “Audit Scotland must use the key themes in this report and the associated findings from Audit Scotland’s audit of educational outcomes to inform the scope of their national performance audit on outcomes for children and young people with additional support needs. This must include assessing spend on additional support for learning across services, its impact on attainment and outcomes for children and young people at all stages.”

This performance audit has not yet taken place, but is listed within the report among “potential areas for future audit work.” and will make even more interesting reading.

Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

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