Manifesto Review – Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2021

I expect it hasn’t escaped your notice that there is an election happening soon. As such, and with an optimistic aspiration that it might encourage people consider more than just that issue when considering how to vote, I will review the main political parties’ manifestos.

This is not a review of the whole of the manifesto of each party, but only those parts which relate to additional support for learning. I am aiming to let you know what each party says and to provide some commentary where appropriate. I am certainly not going to tell you how to vote! Comments on the policies themselves and other ideas you wish were included are very welcome – political points scoring and arguments are not! I am presenting the manifestos in the order in which they were released.

Scottish Greens

The Scottish Green Party have quite a lot to say about additional support needs, probably more than any of the other parties, in fact. This section of the manifesto begins by noting the “dramatic increase” in the number of pupils identified as having additional support needs, attributing this increase to “a better understanding of additional support needs among young people”. It goes on to state (correctly) that “[t]he vast majority of pupils with additional needs can be supported within mainstream school with the right resources..”. However, the Greens and the Conservatives are the only parties to explicitly support the placement of pupils in special schools – with the Greens pledging they will be “properly supported and receive the resources they need”. In fairness, none of the other parties are proposing their abolition, either…

Many of the proposals to do with additional support needs are focused on staffing. The Greens proposed to ensure that additional needs are covered in both Initial Teacher Education and in CPD for teachers, “equipping all teachers with the core skills required to support pupils with additional needs”. However, they are also proposing to recruit 2,500 more “additional needs teachers” and to make additional support needs teaching a promoted post – which will require “appropriate training and study”. These two commitments seems slightly at odds with one another.

Outside the teaching profession, the Greens are proposing qualified counselors in schools, to support a right to school-based counselling for all pupils. They also propose formal recognition of FE qualifications for support assistants and for their accreditation and registration through the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

They propose (following the publication of the ongoing CSP review) to widen access to CSPs and revision of the statutory guidance. This is a good thing in my view, and the Greens definitely get bonus points for knowing about CSPs and the Code of Practice.

The Greens are looking for additional support needs provision to be “appropriately prioritised and assessed” within the inspection system (which they proposed to reform). They also support legislation for adequate support for young people with additional support needs in their post-school transitions (presumably a reference to the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill).

Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems propose a teacher job guarantee. The extra teachers, they say, will help with “additional support needs in the classroom” – among other things. Also proposed are “new pupil support assistants to give more in-class support to children who need it”.

The manifesto includes a very general commitment: “We will support children with additional support needs.” – which could probably use a little bit of fleshing out.

The federal Lib Dem party have long favoured the use of a pupil premium to assist pupils from less affluent families. This policy is replicated here by way of modification of the Pupil Equity Fund – though the “directly to schools” aspect remains. An Armed Forces Pupil Premium will be introduced to match similar provision available elsewhere in the UK. A Nursery Premium for pre-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds will have an emphasis on parental involvement.

The Lib Dems also propose a “more securely funded youth work” sector to help reach those not engaging successfully in formal education.

A new Teacher Premium (I told you they were fond of premiums!) would support recruitment for schools in disadvantaged areas.

There is a broad commitment to “an education service that is inclusive for each disabled child and disabled young person so that they receive appropriate care and support before, and during, the transition to adulthood.” And a more specific commitment to implementing the recommendations of the ASL Review.

Education Scotland would be asked to assess the provision for children with English as an Additional Language – and to make them eligible for Pupil Equity Funding (another pupil premium!).

The Lib Dems (uniquely, I think) are promising “new statutory guidance to eliminate the unnecessary use of restraint and seclusion in schools and children’s services” – and articulate this as a human rights issue (as indeed it is) for children with a learning disability.

On post-school transition, the Lib Dems would make disabled people a priority group for access to the young person’s job guarantee and introduce new apprenticeship schemes for blind and partially sighted people. Their proposal to “give every child or young person with a disability or long-term health condition the right to a transitions plan to help with their move from child to adult services” is taken from the pages of the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill).

Scottish National Party

There is not a huge amount from the SNP here about additional support needs. In fairness, there is a bit more on looked after children (who are presumed, in law, to have additional support needs) but not a great deal of that is related to school education.

Beyond some vaguely worded non-committal statements e.g. “We want all children to get the support that they need..” the main highlight is a commitment to “fully implement” the ASL Review. Given that a) the review was commissioned by the SNP Goverment, and b) they have already publicly committed to implementing it, it would be strange if this was not their position.

They go on to say that they will “expand on the number of Pupil Support Assistants” – which is interesting, because the ASL Review says that “investment in Pupil Support Assistants must be measured for impact and improvement on children and young people’s experiences and achievements.” and that “and school managers must plan a strategy to review the deployment of Pupil Support Assistants, which takes account of recommendations from the current national research Education Endowment Fund (2018).” That research shows that the deployment of Teaching Assistants (as they are known in England & Wales) can often be counter-productive. So, unless there is a lot of detail beneath the expansion of PSA numbers proposal, it runs the risk of cutting across the recommendations of the ASL Review.

The SNP manifesto moves on to talk about “Inclusive Education” which (apart from a very welcome commitment to fund free BSL tuition for deaf children aged 5+) refers exclusively to LGBT and racial inclusion. This echoes findings of the ASL Review about low visibility of additional support needs: “young people have expressed concern that some schools now view their focus on LGBTI young people (which they fully support) as constituting their inclusion agenda. This reinforced the experience some children and young people have of being overlooked and low priority.”

Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

The Conservatives have proposed a “catch-up premium” which, they say, would be “weighted to provide more funding for children with additional support needs”.

Like the Lib Dems and the SNP, the Conservatives commit to implement the recommendations of the ASL Review. And like the Greens, they have an explicit commitment to the special school sector (mentioning the importance of working with the third sector and CAMHS for children with more complex needs).

They propose increasing the support staff workforce – “including by improving data collection on the composition of this vital workforce and formalising the role of pupil support assistants”. They also propose that Initial Teacher Education “fully prepares all teachers to identify and support children” with additional support needs – name checking dyslexia and autism in particular. This, they say, would improve diagnosis pathways, and “help ensure children and families who require low level support” can get it.

Scottish Labour Party

Not a great deal in the Scottish Labour manifesto on additional support needs specifically, and a slightly unfortunate use of the phrase “Additional Support Needs (ASN) Pupils”. Three main proposals are set out. First, it notes “an urgent need for further ASN resources across the country”, quite rightly noting that the impact of the pandemic could hit “this vulnerable cohort” particularly hard.

Second, there is a commitment to “enough funding to fill the gap between the promise of Additional Support for Learning legislation and the reality of additional support needs provision.” There is no mention of the ASL Review, but this is thematically very on point. This funding will include “at least 1,000 additional specialist teachers” across Scotland.

Third, Scottish Labour commit to the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill – especially the proposals for a national transitions strategy and a Transitions Plan for every school leaver with an impairment or long-term health condition. This is not hugely surprising, given that it was Labour’s own Johann Lamont MSP who introduced the Bill.

Remember to vote on 6 May!

Hopefully, that is of some assistance in summarising the parties’ positions on additional support for learning. It may even help you to decide who to vote for. But no matter who you vote for, please do vote.

Image by Please support me! Thank you! from Pixabay

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